Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

We need to stop marching to the same old tired tune

The vast majority of parades pass off peacefully
Bishop Jeremy Taylor

Here we go again. Street demonstrations, bands, noise, angry residents, furious politicians, and more damaging headlines. It must be The Twelfth and the marching season all over again.

There is not much new about what's been happening recently, and a cub reporter could make a stab at writing the familiar script.

There is the usual build-up, the harsh statements on both sides, and the plea from the Secretary of State and business and community leaders not to do anything which would harm the image of Northern Ireland.

To be fair, the vast majority of marches go off peacefully but in the minority, where confrontations occur, great damage is done to our reputation as a society on the way up.

Some people, sadly, are more concerned with their own self-interests than with the wider image of Northern Ireland.

It matters little that the US President has visited Northern Ireland recently and has said some complimentary things about our peace process, while also issuing challenges about our future.

It matters not that the leaders of eight of the most economically powerful countries in the world have paid Northern Ireland the compliment of holding their summit in Fermanagh as they face global problems.

All of this pales into insignificance here compared to the need felt by men and women wearing Orange regalia to march in areas where they are not wanted. Equally some people in those areas feel the urgency of having to protest loud and long about the marches of the Orange members along the main public roads which both sides use daily.

The vast majority of Ulster people who are not directly involved are saying to both sides "Get a life". There are much more important issues to get worked up about, including jobs, inward investment and a better Northern Ireland for everyone.

However the marchers and protesters are not listening to anyone but themselves and now the politicians, who have failed yet again by allowing these confrontations to feed on tribal hatreds, will be prolonging the agony with a special debate at Stormont next week.

So once again we will see most of these highly-paid people posturing to their lowest common political denominators, and filling the Stormont chamber with enough hot air to propel scores of balloons over the familiar disputed territory.

The trouble is that these people are indulging in their familiar word games without caring much about what other people outside their mental ghettos are thinking. Yet sooner or later this annual summer madness will die down and we will all try to get back to normal living.

Is there a way out? Certainly those who are still warring could look to the progress in Londonderry where many of the old hatreds and poisons are draining away, for the common good.

Earlier this week the very able Dean of Derry Dr William Morton reminded us that the comparative peace in that city has been achieved by people on both sides talking to one another regularly and with mutual respect.

Why then should the unionist and nationalist/republican marchers and residents of Belfast and a few other places remain a law unto themselves? The way forward is through talking and not confrontation. When, if ever, will the penny drop and allow this place to work towards the peace which we all so badly need?

Or is the Twelfth doomed for ever to be dragged into annual disrepute by the stiff-necks on both sides who are not big enough to give way? The people of Northern Ireland deserve better.

'Pesky Presbyterian' loves choir

On Sunday I went to St George's Church in Belfast to see the excellent visiting choir from Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge.

They were here to commemorate 17th century Anglican Bishop Jeremy Taylor, an ex-Fellow of their college, who was sent over here to deal with "the pesky Presbyterians", like me. However, his successor Bishop Alan Abernethy was a suitably benign presence at St George's, still one of the best places for Irish church music.

Hands of time stand still in Bangor

This week I was in Bangor and the spire of First Bangor Presbyterian Church, which was founded in the 17th century, looked resplendent in the glorious sunshine.

There was only one snag, however. The clock in the tower was stuck at 12.25. I have heard of churches being behind the times, but for First Bangor, which is a fine church with a good reputation, it really is time to get a move on and to fix their handsome tower clock.

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