Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

IRA parade: A whiff of smart aleck game-playing from Sinn Fein

It is hard to see Sinn Fein's decision to back an IRA parade through Castlederg as anything other than an attempt to create a bargaining chip for the forthcoming Haass talks on parading.

For unionists it will never be seen as anything but a coat trailing exercise.

One of the problems for republican negotiators is that the vast majority of parades are loyal order events. A glimpse at the Parades Commission's website shows that, and republicans may feel they need something to trade at the talks.

That could be why it has suddenly created this parade route and has borrowed heavily on the language of the loyal orders, the very arguments which in Ardoyne and Portadown were described as irrelevant.

The orders call the road from Woodvale past Ardoyne shops and Twaddell Avenue in north Belfast a shared space which all can use. Republicans disagree and say it must be negotiated with local residents. The Orange Order called a park in Portadown a shared space and sought to search the boundaries of what this meant by holding a prayer service there.

"Shared space does not mean abused space," said John McGibbon, a Sinn Fein spokesman arguing that the Orange Order could not use the park as it did not have a good relationship with nationalist residents.

In north Belfast, the Orange Order talked of its "template" for parading and presented it as a concession. Not good enough, countered Sinn Fein, you can't impose your template, you have to agree it with people.

In Castlederg the roles are reversed. Sinn Fein and the Tyrone Volunteers committee make the arguments the loyal orders make elsewhere. They have a template, the town centre is a shared area and people should show tolerance to them. The arguments have a smart aleck, game-playing "see how you like it" air to them. This sort of inconsistency, and the decision to pull this issue out of a hat, is unlikely to wash with Haass, and it put the Parades Commission in an impossible position.

Having stopped the Orangemen at Woodvale, it had to reroute the republicans in Castlederg.

Sinn Fein knew that – but it is not aping the reaction of unionists in north Belfast.

"This determination makes a mockery of the concept of shared space within Castlederg centre and the fact that locally there has been dialogue for over five years surrounding parades in the town," said councillor Ruarai McHugh, lamenting the re-routing's potential to "undermine attempts by local republicans towards addressing contention in Castelderg".

There is also an attempt to claim anyone who is Catholic as a republican, for example Castlederg is regarded as a republican town because 62.7% of people voted for nationalist parties in Derg Ward.

Indeed, as Ross Hussey of the UUP was quick to point out, only 35.1% of townspeople consider themselves Irish. Many of those would not be supporters of the IRA. Although many may regard the two IRA men whose death in a premature bomb detonation three miles outside the town as tragically wasted young lives, far fewer will wish that Seamus Harvey and Gerard McGlynn had succeeded in bombing the town.

Support for such events must be tested, it cannot just be claimed. In the Haass process we need an all-round look at parades and decide if, or when, we do want single community events in our shared spaces.

This sort of jockeying only makes an agreed solution more difficult.