Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Let's have a walk on the mild side

Parades in Northern Ireland have always been contentious, often seen by opposing communities as exercises in coat-trailing, triumphalism or just plain trouble-making.

Even the vetting of demonstrations by the Parades Commission has not always proved successful, with the body itself being the subject of severe criticism at times from both nationalists and unionists. So, it is little wonder that the coming decade of centenary commemorations has been anticipated with a little trepidation, even given the political progress in recent years.

This weekend's demonstration to remember unionist opposition to Home Rule in 1912, which led to the signing of the Ulster Covenant and the eventual partition of Ireland, can be regarded as a litmus test for forthcoming centenaries such as the 2016 Easter Rising commemoration. It promises to be a huge turnout, similar in scale to Belfast's Twelfth parade, and bringing together Loyal Orders, unionist political parties, and, most contentiously the UDA and UVF.

While obviously it would be preferable if former murderous paramilitary organisations were not involved - just as it would be better if republicans did not parade with mock weapons at Easter - there does seem to be a concerted effort to ensure that their presence is as inoffensive as possible.

They will, we are assured, not be dressed in paramilitary uniforms and that stewarding will be in place to ensure the parades will pass flashpoint nationalist districts without confrontation.

The problem is that the demonstration will bring a volatile mix of groups onto the streets. The opportunity for mischief making on either side is obvious and keeping order will be a huge test.

On a day when much attention will be focused on Ulster's rugby team's attempt to win the Heineken Cup, this parade will provide a chastening counterpoint, reminding us that the past is always present. Many people will be viewing the proceedings with bated breath, hoping that all passes peacefully. If it doesn't then that could be an ominous sign for the future.

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