Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Parade's Commission can't be the fall guy

Parades Commission chair, Anne Henderson
Parades Commission chair, Anne Henderson

All right-minded people accept that the Parades Commission has a near impossible job on adjudicating on contentious parades. No matter what decision is reached, it will only be acceptable to the side which claims victory in the dispute.

Over the years we have seen both nationalists and unionists praise and criticise the commission for the decisions it has reached.

But, while acknowledging the difficulty of the task facing the commission, what it must do is reach any decision on defensible grounds and with certainty.

The U-turn by the commission on its determination on a march in Portadown on Saturday is embarrassing. It suggests that the original decision was taken without taking into account all factors which should have been considered.

It also gives ammunition to those who argue that the commission is not up to the job and that it caves in when there is any hint of opposition to contentious parades. Worse of all it sets a bad tone for the rest of the summer when even more contentious parades will be put before the commission for decision.

There is no doubt that there is tremendous pressure on the members of the commission. And their task has not been made any easier by the fact that all present members are relatively new.

The previous commission was replaced en bloc by the Northern Ireland Office and that may have been a mistake as it robbed the body of people of experience. It would surely have been wiser to retain some members to assist the newly constituted body.

Nevertheless the commission is the duly appointed body to deal with contentious parades. While it may have plenty of critics, no one has come up with a better alternative for tackling the issue.

Politicians are among the most vocal critics, yet solving the problem of parades is their job ultimately. The commission may serve as a fall guy in the short term, but this is an issue that the politicians cannot continue to dodge indefinitely.

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