Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

'Talk before you walk' is rule for peaceful parades

Contentious marches - if allowed to go unresolved - can only give succour to elements opposed to the peace process, says Sean Murray

Last week's contrasting outcomes at Ardoyne and Crumlin on July 12 have put a renewed focus on parades - especially the small number of contentious parades which still retain the capacity to undermine and destabilise political progress.

The absence of any confrontation in Crumlin, in spite of its latent potential, resulted from the application of practical leadership, accompanied by successful negotiation. This involved local residents and the Orange Order.

A tangible reduction in tension and a mutual management plan came into operation as a result. All bunting, flags and protest banners were removed within an hour of the parade ending as a sense of normality returned to Crumlin village. Anti-peace process elements were nowhere in sight, devoid of issues and influence.

This was clearly not the case in Ardoyne, where increased community tensions, division and annual sectarian conflict are the norm.

This continuing saga has delivered the anti-peace elements both an issue for building on and an unwelcome level of influence within the Greater Ardoyne Residents' Collective (GARC). This and other similar groups, like the Rasharkin Residents Collective, are clearly opposed to our peace process and the new policing dispensation.

They are intent on manipulating the genuine fears and concerns of nationalists, while fomenting confrontation with the PSNI through the involvement of disaffected young people.

Contentious parades will, if left unresolved, continue to enable and empower anti-peace process elements, while disempowering progressive individuals, groups and parties, who have signed up to a peaceful way forward.

This is also evident in the loyalist/unionist tradition, with reactionary elements which have failed to deliver leadership on key issues, like parading, now castigating Jackie McDonald for his brave and progressive comments on contentious parades. Attitudes around parades continue to harden in both traditions, engendering an increase in sectarian attitudes and perspectives. Contentious parades also have a toxic influence on policing and perceptions around the new policing dispensation. The level of trust and confidence in the policing service is being unduly influenced in a negative fashion.

For many young nationalists in areas like Ardoyne and Rasharkin, their interaction with policing is both negative and, indeed, hostile within the context of their perception of the PSNI 'facilitating' contentious parades.

This colours attitudes and perceptions with regard to both the new policing and political dispensations, especially among young people, providing fertile ground for an anti-peace process agenda.

As such, the Parades Commission, political parties, community leaders, civic and business leaders, those who organise and those who oppose such parades, the police, judiciary and the Public Prosecution Service, all share a common responsibility to provide leadership on this issue. Genuine dialogue and engagement is the key to producing sustainable resolutions to parading disputes. All the key agencies must proactively bring pressure to bear on the key protagonists to achieve sustainable resolutions, given the social, political and financial consequences for failure in the current economic climate and the fragility of our peace and political processes.

While not all issues were resolved in Crumlin, the willingness to enter into dialogue resulted in a better understanding of each other's positions, while facilitating an accommodation between competing rights. Where no meaningful dialogue materialises, then it is imperative that the Parades Commission, through their determinations, create the conditions for movement and resolution.

A window of opportunity exists. Let us not squander it.

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