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It is now time for Orange Order to march to new tune

Ahead of the Last Saturday parade by the Royal Black Institution, the Rev Brian Kennaway outlines why it's time for the loyal orders to sit down and talk with the Parades Commission and to make sure there are no connections with paramilitary bodies

Published 28/08/2015

A police officer looks on as the Woodvale parade meets the barricade
A police officer looks on as the Woodvale parade meets the barricade
Richard Haass, who chaired the failed all-party talks on flags, parades and the legacy of the Troubles

In times past the last Saturday in August was regarded as the end of the parading season. For better or for worse parading has become not just a summer activity but an all year round activity.

This is highlighted with the continual confrontation at the nightly protests at Ardoyne as well after weekly protests at Drumcree.

It is, however, Belfast, and north Belfast in particular, which has the enduring problem of confrontation. This includes Whiterock, Ardoyne and more recently the self-inflicted Donegall Street.

The Institution in general and Belfast Orangeism in particular have over the years tried every trick in the book to resolve the issues, except the most obvious ones.

Lest readers think that this is an issue which has arisen since the creation of the Parades Commission, I would remind them of the timely piece in this paper on July 29, 2013 by retired detective Alan Simpson, who drew our attention to the fact that he "stood at the Ardoyne shopfronts in July 1970 as a young probationer constable - part of a police contingent there to keep the peace as the Ligoniel Orange Order passed by going to and from the annual Twelfth demonstration".

Over more recent years various attempts have been made to resolve these parading issues.

The Parades Commission, since its inception, spent in access of £100,000 on various mediations over Ardoyne - all to no avail, though the talks chaired by Lord Alderdice in the spring of 2012 came close to finding a permanent resolution.

The creation of numerous 'Parades Strategy Committees' by the Grand Lodge since the inception of the Parades Commission in 1997 all failed to come up with any way of resolving the general conflict.

In 2010 the Hillsborough Agreement among the political parties was ultimately rejected because it was unacceptable to the Orange Order.

It was 2013 which proved to be the great year of failed initiatives. In January the Unionist Forum was created by the Unionist parties and the Orange Order, seldom met and was declared dead 12 months later.

In May there were the Cardiff talks, initiated by the Chief Constable in the hope of creating a peaceful summer, failed miserably in its objective. Readers may recall The Belfast Orange & Black Comprehensive Template, issued on June 11.

In this case they failed to keep their own promises.

This 'Comprehensive Template - St Patrick's, Donegall Street' undertook:

  • No part of any parade will stop outside St Patrick's.
  • Any funeral, wedding or regular church service will be facilitated.

The following Twelfth morning a number of bands, one of which gesticulated, stopped outside St Patrick's while playing the Sash. The following 'Black Saturday' during the return parade, the priest had to stop saying Mass because of the noise of a passing parade. No apology has been received.

The year finished with the Haass Talks. The 4,700 words devoted to parading bore a strange similarity to those which were rejected in the Hillsborough Agreement of 2010, and was much more complicated than the present arrangements.

Although Haass said that 'progress was made', no agreement was achieved.

The July 2014 walk-out of unionist politicians from the Stormont talks along with the threat of a 'graduated response', which ultimately came to nothing and the creation of a United Unionist Front with the 'Covenant-like' commitment, at the behest of the Orange leadership, only served to demonstrate the bareness of unionist/orange leadership.

The 'Let them Home' campaign like all other campaigns which involve violence has not succeeded.

The tradition in Orangeism is to leave from the hall in which the lodge sits and return to that hall following the demonstration. In the case of the Ligoniel lodges they do not sit in, nor do they return to Ligoniel Orange Hall as it no longer exists.

The Grand Master's ill -advised and ill-conceived call on March 7, 2015 "to demonstrate their displeasure at the current situation by holding peaceful and legal protests across Northern Ireland, at times and locations of their choosing, over the coming weeks", has not produced a resolution.

The fact that parades in areas of conflict are continually 'escorted' by those with a perceived paramilitary connection, does nothing to create good relations with those who live nearby or oppose the existence of the parade.

In recent years the Orange leadership have shifted from attacking the personalities of the ParadesCommission to arguing that it is the legislation which needs to be changed.

To achieve this goal they have appealed to the Secretary of State instead of engaging with the Parades Commission whose remit it is to suggest changes to the Secretary of State.

Since the inception of the Parades Commission many of those outside the Institution have offered valuable advice.

The report to the Grand Lodge in February 2001 by Brian Currin, the South African Human rights lawyer, and the Opinion of Austin Morgan, a London-based barrister, was revealed in March 2001. Both affirmed that the right to parade/march was not an "absolute right". Currin affirmed that "the Parades Commission could be the saviour rather than the destroyer of the parading tradition". The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission also examined the European Convention of Human Rights. They reported in March 2001 that the Orange Order had no 'absolute' right under European Law.

In April 2004 the International Monitoring Commission's report concluded in its recommendations: "No organisation, statutory, commercial or voluntary, should tolerate links with paramilitary groups or give legitimacy to them. In particular, societies and other similar organisations should make every effort to satisfy themselves that none of their members are linked to paramilitary groups."

Clear judicial advice was given in 2014, though this did not prevent a subsequent Judicial Appeal in 2015.

On July 11, 2014, a resident of Twaddell Avenue applied for a Judicial Review of the Parades Commission Determination, Mr Justice Weir refused.

He did so on the grounds that: "Given the lack of concrete progress, no-one could have legitimately expected that circumstances had sufficiently changed for the better in the intervening period to warrant the giving of permission for a parade over the contentious area."

But Mr Justice Weir also made these telling comments: "These issues will require a degree of political leadership and courage; that's the way they are going to be sorted out, by people sitting down and agreeing with each other...

"If a fraction of the energy that is put into litigating these matters or going on the television or radio to talk about them was put into sitting down with clean sheets of paper and nice sharp pencils, I think we would get to the terminus much quicker."

The parading issue in general and the Belfast problem in particular can only be resolved by:

1. The Grand Lodge leadership sitting down with the Parades Commission and discussing with them the areas where they consider the legislation needs to be changed.

2. The Belfast Orange leadership need to take the free advice of the International Monitoring Commission and distance themselves from anything which resembles paramilitarism.

3. The Ligoniel lodges alone need to take this free advice of Mr Justice Weir and sit down with representatives of the residents in serious, substantive and meaningful conversations, and work out an agreement.

If these three things are done now it will go along way to resolving the perennial problem of parading in Belfast.

  • The Rev Brian Kennaway is the author of 'The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed' and a former member of the Parades Commission

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