Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Orange Order must show leadership today

Reports that senior DUP politicians met with Orange Order leaders and paramilitary figures among others and the threats of a stand-off by Orangemen create an ominous backdrop to today's Twelfth demonstrations. A summer which started so promisingly with the international good publicity gained by the successful hosting of the G8 conference is now on the verge of seeing replays of the violence which so often mars the marching season.

It is easy for unionist politicians and the Orange Order to pin the blame on the Parades Commission which has refused to allow one demonstration to return along the Crumlin Road this evening. Admittedly there were some last-ditch talks between the Order and Ardoyne residents but it was always too little too late.

And that is the nub of the problem. Ardoyne has been a flashpoint for several years, yet little is done to initiate meaningful discussions across the divide. When a contentious decision is made, one side or other then rounds on the Parades Commission which simply cannot win no matter what it does.

The problems today are one of leadership. It is not enough for politicians of all hues simply to parrot the frustrations of their communities.

Very belatedly talks on finding a resolution to the parades issue are to begin with the working party tasked with coming up with an answer by Christmas. It would take an optimist to believe that timetable can be achieved unless there is a sudden overwhelming desire by the Orange Order and nationalist residents groups to find common ground.

Even if there is goodwill on both sides another problem remains, the dissident republican factions whose only reason for being is to cause trouble and create mayhem where possible.

They have no possible interest in finding a peaceful solution to contentious marches. Their aim is to try to create a sense of victimhood in the communities where they are strong and then stir up trouble against a supposed enemy.

It may be a vain hope, but even at this late hour we would appeal to the Orange Order to adhere to the Parades Commission decision.

It is understandable that the Order feels aggrieved, but to cast itself as the villain of the piece – for it will be so perceived if it goes ahead with its planned series of stand-offs – will not help to undermine its case.

To obey the ruling on the other hand would demonstrate that it is an organisation open to reason and law-abiding.

Northern Ireland simply cannot afford to be portrayed internationally as a place where ancient grievances still run deep and periodically explode into violence or widespread acts of civil disobedience. Sammy Wilson, while sharing the Order's anger, has made a very pragmatic and statesman-like plea for calm.

Any disorder, he argues, will choke economic recovery here. He is right and his advice should be taken.

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