Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

SDLP's stance on Ardoyne parade deadlock is wrong-headed

PSNI officers on duty in north Belfast
PSNI officers on duty in north Belfast

Politics is often described as the art of the possible, but this is a concept that the SDLP, in particular, apparently has ignored in its immediate and forthright rejection of a plan to explore potential solutions to the Ardoyne parade impasse in north Belfast.

By refusing to even consider the establishment of an independent panel to discuss the issue, the party is denying any possibility of ending this long-running controversy.

Certainly, politicians must be pragmatic in their approach to various issues. They will always bear in mind the feelings of their supporters when devising policy, but in Northern Ireland this consideration frequently seems to focus on the parties' hardline rumps, rather than the wider electorate.

There are hardline elements among both the residents opposed to the march past Ardoyne shops and the Orange Order, who demand the right to march everywhere they want. But they cannot be allowed to hold the rest of the community to ransom.

Politicians, to their credit, showed leadership during the Twelfth which helped to defuse a potentially explosive situation.

Unionists rowed in behind this newspaper's call for the establishment of a body to examine the issue. We wanted a judge-led inquiry with powers to compel witnesses that would eventually produce a set of recommendations which could be enforceable in law.

It is disingenuous of the SDLP to say that – in this one-off occasion – such a body would undermine the Parades Commission, for it was that body which sowed the seeds of our proposal by saying it was unable to break the logjam and that further resources were needed. Parades can be contentious – as we see by unionist reaction to the hunger strike commemoration demonstration planned for Derrylin – but it is only by mature reaction from politicians and community leaders that any resolution can be found.

The Apprentice Boys demonstration in Londonderry – once an annual source of violence – has been transformed into a tourist attraction through the efforts of all sides in that city to find accommodation and mutual respect.

The SDLP helped forge that agreement, which makes its rejection of a similar approach in north Belfast all the more puzzling – is it purely for electoral purposes? – and wrong-headed.

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