Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Our cause is an equality issue over Orange culture, so it can't be viewed through the lens of conflict

The Orange Order Pride of Ardoyne hold a peaceful protest at Woodvale Parade, July 27 2013. Picture Colm O'Reilly
The Orange Order Pride of Ardoyne hold a peaceful protest at Woodvale Parade, July 27 2013. Picture Colm O'Reilly

The debate about parading, culture and identity must be understood through the concept of inclusive citizenship as set out within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent St Andrews Agreement – not through the lens of conflict.

Attacks on Protestant, unionist, loyalist, and Orange culture and manifestations of that culture continue with alarming regularity.

Hardly a day passes without seeing some report in the media about an attack on an Orange Hall, memorial, church or person.

Intolerant language, words, negative stereotype and sweeping and false generalisations of loyal order parades as "sectarian marches" combine to vilify an entire community and culture without any justification. Citizenship as benchmarked within the Good Friday Agreement guarantees the rights of citizens, both Irish and British, and recognises the need to acknowledge and validate the existence of a number of diverse cultures and traditions.

Much of the discussion so far in terms of our own cultural differences has centred primarily on the issues associated with the loyal orders and marching bands.

While recognising there are aspects of parading that demand serious attention, not least how we show respect at times of sensitivity, we must not make the mistake of seeing our cultural disagreements as a one dimensional problem.

What is going on within republican communities in areas of Belfast such as Ardoyne and further afield deserve a closer look, especially in relation to how militant republicanism is impacting on communities trying to build peaceful relations.

Both in 2006 and 2007, North and West Belfast Parades and Cultural Forum reached agreement with the then Ardoyne Parades and Dialogue Group in relation to loyal order parades along the Crumlin Road. So what has changed?

The biggest factor is that Sinn Fein has taken its seats on the Policing Board. In so doing they have haemorrhaged support and a more hardline attitude has emerged with policing and parading.

I believe the most effective way of dealing with these challenges is through a process of developing mutual understanding.

If republicans truly believe in the principles of inclusive citizenship, equality, social justice, and a shared future then let us see those values being extended to the Orange brethren of Ligoniel.

Republicans choose to view Orange marches through the lens of conflict to serve their own political and ideological ends and to hide the divisions within their own community.

By contextualising the debate within citizenship and human rights we undermine this negative approach, providing opportunities for positive and meaningful dialogue and creating a society where all cultures and backgrounds are respected.

No more reading from two different rulebooks.

I, on my part, am willing to speak to anyone who is genuinely interested in addressing the basic needs of both communities.

With the Orange Order already confirming its willingness to engage with Richard Haass and having previously signalled its intention to speak with residents, this is evidence of new light from old windows.

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