Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Orange Order needs to show it means business in St Patrick's row

Orangemen, protesters and police remonstrate during a parade in Donegall Street

The Orange Order's 'comprehensive template' on marching past St Patrick's Catholic Church in Belfast's Donegall Street leaves a lot of blank spaces which badly need to be filled in before the marching starts later this month.

There are plans by the Executive to set up a committee to provide a solution to the parading issue, but the members have not been named and, even when they are, they will not report until the end of the year.

In the meantime, we have the marching season and we cannot afford it to go badly.

Friday week – June 21 – marks the first of eight parades past St Patrick's, the church which has been a flashpoint location since the Young Conway Volunteers band wheeled around it playing The Famine Song last year.

It is not just that the Orange Order doesn't give any undertaking to talk to residents' groups to reach an understanding in advance of the parade.

The Rev Mervyn Gibson, the grand chaplain, says that "isn't imminent", but doesn't rule it out. He should use his influence to move such talks up the agenda.

Yet, even leaving that aside, the plan has flaws. In three out of the eight parades only the lead band will be confined to playing hymns as they pass; the rest can play other tunes.

Even when hymns are played, they can have offensive lyrics attached. It happened in Ardoyne in 2011.

A band was supposed to be playing the hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus. So far, so inoffensive.

But the tune was announced as 'Holy Mary' by a bandleader. A crowd of women chanted: "Holy Mary, I am dying. Just a word before I go. Set the Pope upon the table and stick a poker up his ****. Holy Mary, I am dying." The video was then posted by band supporters on YouTube.

This shows what happens when a band wants to push the envelope to make a point and to cause offence.

What was missing from the Orange Order's comprehensive template was a willingness to take responsibility for the situation and for the behaviour of its supporters.

It could have said – but didn't – that any band which didn't obey the guidelines, or which stretched them to behave offensively, would be punished.

It could have said that such a band would not be allowed to parade with any lodge in Belfast county for the next 12 months.

That would have been a courageous step to take and it would have sent a unmistakeable message of intent.

Instead, the statement bellyached about their alleged "ongoing humiliation and punishment by the Parades Commission". As if to underline the point, one of the men who presented the template was Billy Mawhinney, secretary of the order's Belfast county, as well as a senior Black Institution member, who publicly tore up a Parades Commission determination last August.

We need a peaceful marching season and the Orange Order says it wants one, insisting that "nobody has anything to fear by showing mutual respect".

It should show that it means business with its new rules for bands, as it finds a way to meet residents' groups.

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