Commonsense and the UDA are not words that often appear in the same sentence, but loyalist leader Jackie McDonald has articulated a sensible argument on the issue of Orange parades.
He argues that Orangemen should abandon their demonstrations at Garvaghy Road in Portadown and on Belfast’s Lower Ormeau Road unless they reach agreement on the parades with local residents.
While he accepts that Orangemen may want to stick to traditional routes, he questions why they would want to go along roads where they are not welcome and where the religious demographics have changed. One reason, of course, is to score points over nationalist residents. Similarly, he points out that Sinn Fein’s involvement with some residents’ groups opposing Orange marches has polluted the atmosphere and made reaching any accommodation more difficult.
Sadly, commonsense is a rare virtue when it comes to discussing parades in Northern Ireland. It will be interesting to see if the DUP and Sinn Fein politicians who make up the Stormont body exploring ways of resolving contentious marches take much heed of Mr McDonald’s comments. They will note that in the past, the muscle of the UDA and other loyalist paramilitary bodies was used as a threat to ensure that some marches went ahead in spite of residents’ protests. Now, it appears, the UDA, at least, is distancing itself from the issue.
Now that the UDA has decommissioned its weapons, it is seeking a more conventional community role and Mr McDonald is hosting a conference in the near future which will look at ways of bridging the religious divide. This is a positive development, bringing together loyalists and republicans at street level. It is at that level where trust needs to be developed. While political opponents such as DUP and Sinn Fein have agreed to work together, the next step needs to be mutual respect between republicans and loyalists.