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This Twelfth, let us all live and let live

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 12/07/2016

Marchers take part in the annual Rossnowlagh Orange Parade in Donegal
Marchers take part in the annual Rossnowlagh Orange Parade in Donegal

For many people in Northern Ireland the Twelfth demonstrations are an integral element in the annual calendar.

This is an important part of unionist culture, and it should be remembered that the vast majority of parades pass off peacefully.

To be fair, the Orange Order has made substantial efforts in recent years to widen the appeal of the day.

It has done so by promoting its tourist potential, by tackling the serious problem of on-street drinking, and other measures.

For many today is primarily a family day as the long heritage of the Orange tradition is handed down from generation to generation. This is part of the Orange Fest attitude where people want to enjoy a day out for themselves and their families and friends.

There are 18 demonstrations taking place across Northern Ireland involving many thousands of people including marchers, bands, support services, supporters and spectators, including overseas visitors.

There is an added poignancy to the event this year because of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Members of the Orange Order served in that bloody battle during which many died or were seriously wounded. Their memory lingers on.

This has been a successful year for the Order, given the recent visit of Prince Charles to Dan Winter's cottage in Co Armagh, regarded as the birthplace of Orangeism.

Despite some of the darker headlines, including the totally unjustified burning of and vandalisng of Orange halls, there is still much to celebrate and much to remember on a day like this.

It is all too easy to fall into the old stereotype of thinking of Orange members only as stern-faced men marching grimly, wearing their bowler hats and dark suits, enlivened only by their orange sash.

Orangemen and women are as likely to be the fathers and mothers of young children as they are to belong to an older generation.

There is a continuity about life in Northern Ireland which the passing years and changing fashions do not erase.

Despite all of this, the one pressure point tonight may be at Ardoyne, where a return parade is banned from passing a flashpoint. There have been laudable efforts to broker a deal, but unfortunately these have been unsuccessful so far.

Nevertheless, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton has expressed his hopes that this will be a peaceful Twelfth, and the vast majority of people in the province also hope that he will be proved right.

In recent years the appalling scenes of rioters, burning vehicles, and attacks on the police have been counterproductive for Northern Ireland and all its people, whatever community they are from.

These scenes do a disservice to everybody, not least because such behaviour is not reflective of the day's events, or the province itself as a whole.

As the marchers, bandsmen and their supporters wend their way home this evening, they should remember that this is an occasion for common sense, and for keeping an eye on the broader and bigger picture. It is also time for political leadership.

Northern Ireland has had a dark and often brutally-contested history, but the emphasis should be on a shared future, and on resolving the small number of these flashpoints.

It will not be easy, but it is not impossible. Being a member of one tradition should not mean that someone else is denied the right to his or her tradition. A pluralist society is fundamentally one that accepts more than one tradition.

Going forward, we need a 'live and let live' approach. That means not going out of your way to take or to give offence. This is a time for cool, clear heads and wise words.

Belfast Telegraph

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