Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

A time for cool heads and respect for others

It is bad luck for Fr Michael Sheehan that his church, St Patrick's on Donegall Street, Belfast, is on one of the city's main parade routes. That has brought him into conflict, at least verbally, with the Orange Order and some of the bands which accompany marchers.

There is no doubt that he has been subjected to provocation with bands breaking bans on playing music outside his church, yet he has also been accused of inciting marchers by opening his church and standing at the door when parades are passing. He may argue, as many clergymen would, that the doors of his church are always open for the faithful to enter and that anyone passing the church should treat the building and its occupants with respect.

But the normal rules of behaviour often don't apply during the marching season and the old adage of least said, soonest mended, is one that everyone would be wise to observe at this time. Fr Sheehan has strong words to say about the responsibilities of politicians to tackle the contentious issue of parades.

There are many in society who would echo his views. Politicians represent all shades of opinion within the province and should be active in promoting dialogue between the loyal orders, residents and any other interested party which could help defuse potential flashpoints.

It is easy to criticise the Parades Commission – indeed it sometimes seems the body was created solely to become a whipping boy for both marchers and opposing residents groups whenever either gets an unfavourable decision. Certainly, membership of the Parades Commission is a poisoned chalice and its very existence allows politicians to absolve themselves of any responsibility. But as we enter the marching season, it is clear that sinister elements are determined to ratchet up the annual tensions in the hope of creating serious confrontation.

It often takes only a little spark to cause a conflagration and everyone – politicians, residents representatives, even clergy like Fr Sheehan, should moderate their language, show a willingness to respect other points of view, and do all they can to take the sting out of the situation.

Language can be as potent a weapon as any other.

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