Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Talking offers Orange Order road from cul-de-sac

Police pictured on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast
Police pictured on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast

It was no surprise that the Assembly was split almost equally in half yesterday on the issue of parades. That is pretty much the situation in the real world outside.

What was a surprise was the temperate tone of the debate called by the DUP to condemn the Parades Commission decision to stop Orangemen marching home past Ardoyne in North Belfast on the Twelfth. Perhaps all members were aware of the desperate vicious violence which followed previous incendiary speeches and did not want to do anything to stoke the flames further.

First Minister Peter Robinson, while throwing in the almost obligatory criticism of the Parades Commission, set the tone for the debate with a well measured speech.

He rightly said that anyone who brandished a sword at PSNI officers should be in jail. This was one notable example of violence perpetrated on police, from throwing bricks, stones and blast bombs to attacking them with their own batons.

But it was his challenge to the Orange Order itself which was most interesting. By encouraging it to take part in the forthcoming discussions being chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass on dealing with a series of contentious issues including parades, he was essentially telling the Order that the only way to get rid of the Parades Commission was to come up with an alternative. Admittedly politicians have not been able to do that, but the sub-text of Mr Robinson's remarks is that talking is the only way to make progress.

It has worked in other areas where discussions between loyal orders and residents have found compromise and a way to co-exist. That, in essence, is the shared future everyone professes to want but which some only want on their own terms. Sinn Fein was keen to point out during the debate that it has no part in any cultural war against the Order.

The way for the Order to test that is to engage in discussion at the all-party talks. But whatever route the Order takes, it must use its influence to bring the hideous violence on the streets to a speedy conclusion. Perhaps the calming words of the politicians will help.

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