Belfast Telegraph

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Parade talks the only solution

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 17/04/2015

Loyalists hold a white line protest at Twaddell Avenue
Loyalists hold a white line protest at Twaddell Avenue

How do you solve the impasse over controversial Orange Order parades? The DUP's answer, revealed exclusively in this newspaper today, is for Westminster to introduce legislation protecting the right to march and limiting the ability of residents' groups to object.

This demand is part of a package of proposals put forward by the biggest party here as bargaining chips in the event of a hung parliament after next month's general election.

Undoubtedly such legislation would ratchet up tensions on parading, with nationalist parties certain to vigorously oppose any such move, and one consequence would be to fuel further protests.

For that reason it would seem unlikely that any potential government at Westminster would agree to pass such laws. While legislation on parading is not a devolved matter, this newspaper has consistently argued that resolving the controversy is the responsibility of local politicians, the Orange Order and residents' groups.

It has to be made clear that Orange Order parades are major cultural events for the unionist community and hundreds of them pass off without incident every marching season. The problem arises when traditional routes clash with interface areas such as in Portadown or in north Belfast. Changing demographics and historic political tensions create the climate for protest and counter-protest and, unfortunately, violence.

The Parades Commission comes under fire no matter what its decision on such parades and its authority is increasingly undermined. As well, the already stretched police force is caught in the middle trying to hold the peace amid often-inflammatory rhetoric from all those involved.

The solution, as we have often argued, is for all sides to the dispute to sit down without preconditions and in a spirit of seriously attempting to find a way forward. It is more difficult to demonise someone who sits at the same table as you. This approach has worked remarkably well in Londonderry and could do so elsewhere.

The public here is tired of the annual ritual of blame and impasse.

Asking Westminster to solve the problem is shirking responsibility, but any future government would be only too keen to rubber-stamp a consensual agreement reached in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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