Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Parades Commissioner's job hell

Peter Osborne
Peter Osborne

The former head of the Parades Commission has described how he was jostled and spat at in the street at the height of last summer's marching season.

Peter Osborne also revealed how police visited him, warning him to be careful as tensions rose around the Twelfth.

Mr Osborne, who now chairs the Community Relations Council, said it was part of "the territory" of heading up the Parades Commission, a position he admits was a thankless task.

He was speaking at the start of Community Relations Week, a series of events involving thousands of people based around the theme of building a united community.

From a Protestant working-class background in east Belfast's Ballybeen estate, Mr Osborne was appointed as chair of the Parades Commission in January 2011.

He took over as chair of the Community Relations Council earlier this year.

"People kept saying and keep saying [the Parades Commission] is a thankless task and it's only when you do it, you realise how thankless it is," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "It is one of those roles you go into knowing you will be criticised one way or another for every decision."

One of the most contentious decisions taken by the commission, set up in 1997 in the wake of the Drumcree dispute, came last summer, when Orangemen were banned from parading past the shop fronts at Ardoyne on July 12.

Amid simmering tensions, Mr Osborne said at one stage he felt concerned for his safety.

"I did. The threat was always there. I have been visited (by police) a few times to let me know to take care," he added.

"Last year, on one occasion, I had something thrown at me; I was jostled in the street.

"I had somebody spit at me and I had people verbalise some stuff at me in the street.

"It didn't happen very often and most people, again, were pretty supportive." Mr Osborne said he believed most people understood the need for a body like the Parades Commission – despite the ongoing controversy over last summer's Ardoyne ruling, which has seen loyalists man a protest camp at Twaddell Avenue ever since.

Last month, Justice Minister David Ford revealed the cost of policing the camp had now topped £9m. Mr Osborne said despite the £9m bill, he still believed it was the right decision, and that a compromise was still in reach.

"I think the conditions to get a resolution are better than they were in the past. But it is about people being motivated to find a fair and balanced resolution to do it on both sides," he said.

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