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Churches could show path to peace on key marching talks

By Liam Clarke

Published 23/04/2015

A line of police meets Orange Order protesters near Twaddell Avenue in north Belfast. The Orange Order hopes for a resolution to the stand-off before July
A line of police meets Orange Order protesters near Twaddell Avenue in north Belfast. The Orange Order hopes for a resolution to the stand-off before July

The Orange Order's plan for a review of parading in north Belfast was inelegantly done, but it is in everyone's interests to give it a fair wind.

More work will be needed if the Francis Hutcheson Institute, which the Order commissioned, is to secure the buy-in from nationalists to succeed.

The Orange Order should rid itself of the idea that some principle can be discovered that guarantees its right to march against objection.

Those days are gone and by continuing to fight for their return, the Order - especially in Belfast - dooms itself to defeat. There is something in the Orange mentality that dislikes compromise. Agreeing to give up something before you are compelled to is often equated with sell-out and fighting on to defeat seems preferable.

So, it is a good move to get an outside body in - it could provide political cover for accommodation. The Rev Mervyn Gibson, an Orange spokesman, hoped so. He said: "We've appointed Dr [James] Dingley, we've given carte blanche, he can appoint whoever he wants to assist in the panel, he can interview and talk to whoever he likes; we've no restrictions on him whatsoever."

It is now up to Dr Dingley, an expert on terrorism and conflict resolution from Ulster University, to make it work. The Francis Hutcheson Institute he represents is named for an Ulster Presbyterian clergyman, who became a founder of the Scottish Enlightenment and developed principles of tolerance and rationalism.

Hutcheson was also influential in colonial America and his thought is reflected in the US constitution and, arguably, in the Society of United Irishmen, which led Ireland's first republican uprising in 1789.

Hutcheson died before that, in 1746, so the Order are reaching back to a time before Presbyterianism became identified with unionism and to a figure most historically-minded republicans might have some respect for.

Dr Dingley needs to build on and take full advantage of the blank page Mr Gibson says he has given him to work from.

There will be no point in this exercise unless it wins the support of nationalists.

We also need to hear that the Order will work with the outcome; previous plans to resolve the parading issue were accepted by Sinn Fein in 2010 only to be rejected by the Orange Order at the last minute.

This is a big ask, but not impossible.

There is no doubt that the institute has a unionist feel to it; its director of communications and political consultant is Lord Laird of Artigarvan, who is a member of York Lodge in Belfast. He is very liberal for an Orangeman - he backed gay marriage, for instance - but he needs to show that.

Joe Marley, of Crumlin Ardoyne Residents' Association (Cara), which objects to some parades in north Belfast, was cool, but didn't shut down any options.

"I don't believe it's independent and I think the Orange Order really needs to engage with local residents," he said. "I think that's always the preferred option and I think that's the only thing that's going to produce any tangible sort of benefits for the people who live in the community."

Dr Dingley says his team includes a Catholic and a Presbyterian. "I'm not a member of the Orange Order, I know people in the Orange Order, I know republicans and nationalists," he said. He now needs to start working those contacts.

Good people to approach initially might include local clergy like the Rev Leslie Carroll and Fr Martin Magill. Most important of all may be the community at Holy Cross, which serves Ardoyne.

He will need to get on to politicians and community groups - and soon. Yet, in a fairly religious area, clergy can often smooth the way through the suspicion that inevitably surrounds any unilateral gesture by the Orange Order.

Belfast Telegraph

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