Belfast Telegraph

Marching season is over but hunt for solution is not

Peter Osborne detects a growing, perhaps irresistible, desire for a long-term agreement over contentious parades

The parading season has now passed its busiest period and, as a relatively new commission, we are pleased with how the year to date has passed.

This year, the number of contentious parades dipped below 200 for the first time since the commission starting collating figures - and that includes more than 50 weekly parade notifications relating to Drumcree.

Indeed, in the three-month period June-August 2011, only 74 determinations were placed on more than 2,500 parades - less than 3% of the total. So progress is being made.

While some of the relatively few contentious parades understandably attract media attention, about 4,000 parades do take place peacefully each year.

Parading is part of the rich and diverse cultural tapestry that exists locally, but the key to unlock its potential is for parading to be respectful, inclusive and non-contentious.

That is why we want to work with the loyal orders and other parading organisations, politicians, residents and community representatives to identify and tackle issues that remain.

I believe there is a strong and clear public appetite for long-term resolution to parades-related problems.

There is also a clear onus and responsibility on local leaders - members of parading bodies, community representatives, politicians and clergy - to help parades take place without tensions.

That work is hard, it requires determination and effort; and we fully acknowledge the role played in maintaining order at interface areas.

But tensions are not always contained and, unfortunately, we did see some violence, including that associated with the Ardoyne parade again this year. Thankfully, it was not on the same scale as previous years and it also stood as a fairly isolated incident. There is an onus on all involved in parading to redouble their efforts to find resolution.

The preferred option is for local leaders to find accommodation, rather than the Parades Commission having to ultimately make a determination.

Our work does not slow down now that the main parading season has passed. In fact we regard the autumn and winter months as an opportunity to engage with local leaders even further to pursue dialogue and agreement.

We are also quite prepared to review our own procedures and systems and we want to work with all the parading organisations, including the loyal orders and political and community representatives, to identify how we can do things even better.

If we see that there is a potential benefit to be had in making changes, we will make them or recommend them.

The Parades Commission is committed to making progress in the parading environment here.

Having attended the Belfast Mela celebrations recently and witnessed the level of interest and participation, it is clear that our society is becoming ever more diverse and forward-thinking.

I believe that, while people may come at the issue of parades from differing standpoints, there is a growing desire from the general public to move on, towards a long-term resolution of parading disputes.

That is a solid starting-point for parades happening as part of our rich cultural tapestry within the sort of cohesive, shared and integrated society that our Executive envisages.

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