Ex-Parades Commission chief unfazed by critics of his new role as reconciliation tsar
Published 13/01/2014 | 12:00
The new head of the body charged with breaking down sectarian barriers in Northern Ireland says his former role as chairman of the Parades Commission will not be a hindrance to him promoting reconciliation.
Peter Osborne became a hate figure for loyalism as head of the organisation that placed restrictions on contentious parades.
Now he has been appointed as the new chairman of the Community Relations Council.
It has a key statutory role in promoting dialogue at interfaces, producing annual peace monitoring reports and working out ways in which historic events can be commemorated in an inclusive and non-threatening manner.
Under Mr Osborne's leadership the Parades Commission was ostracised by the loyal orders and heavily criticised by the two main unionist parties. But he denies that his new role will be hampered by his previous role in adjudicating on contentious parades.
"I don't accept that," he said.
"The reason I got involved in the Parades Commission is that I spent 20 years trying to promote reconciliation and being involved in peace-building.
"I see my work on the Parades Commission as being along those same lines. It was about trying to resolve some of the most sensitive issues we have in Northern Ireland," he said.
He pointed to opinion polls showing that the Parades Commission had considerable popular support across the community.
Mr Osborne is from a Protestant working class background in east Belfast's Ballybeen estate.
A former Alliance Party councillor, he stepped aside from party politics 10 years ago. He said he was proud of his roots.
"In my case you can take the boy out of Ballybeen but you will never take Ballybeen out of the boy," he said.
He believes it would be a good thing if parading, currently a Northern Ireland Office responsibility, could be devolved to Stormont.
On the Haass talks, he said: "You have to commend the politicians for trying to resolve issues that were considered too toxic to touch 15 years ago.
"Is it disappointing that we are unable to reach a final agreement? Yes, of course it is, but the point is that there was progress made.
"The political challenge is to build on the progress that has been made and to move forward where they can move forward."
He has set out his vision in a Belfast Telegraph article.
He wrote: "This task, of building the peace and making reconciliation happen is too important to be focused only on the latest need for political compromise, important as that is. Reconciliation is too crucial to be defined by what is possible politically rather than what is needed for and with the whole community."
"In all the time I spent on the Parades Commission I had some extremely good relationships with people across the community, in the unionist community as well as the nationalist and republican community. I met with many people in the Orange Order in Orange halls, amongst other places."
Peter Osborne, new chairman of the Community Relations Council