Belfast Telegraph

Northern Irish people to Orange Order: you can't walk where you want

Exclusive: Poll shows public support for law


Only a quarter of people here support parades which defy official rulings or objections from local residents, a major new poll carried out on behalf of the Belfast Telegraph has shown.

The exclusive research shows that the overwhelming majority of the population believes parades should be regulated and carried out with local agreement.

The findings on marches will be a blow to the Orange Order and protesters at Woodvale in north Belfast.

They have vowed to overturn a Parades Commission decision to block an Orange July 12 parade from returning past Ardoyne, which led to serious rioting and mass arrests.

Impromptu parades and protests have been held in the area since and the cost of policing this marching season is £28m and rising.

Other findings show public approval in our system of government and politicians at an all-time low. The rankings for our politicians and the Assembly are shown to be among the worst of any government anywhere in the world

The questionnaire also showed that while support for the flying of the Union flag breaks down on more traditional lines, the sectarian divisions on this issue are not as marked as they once were.

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Parades: Obey the law or strike a local deal

Day one of our exclusive poll reveals a large majority want organisers to heed official rulings and residents' objections

Marching bodies must obey the Parades Commission or else secure local agreement before staging events.

That is the unequivocal message to parade organisers like the Orange Order from a Northern Ireland-wide opinion poll which we are publishing all this week.

The extensive poll examines feelings on many of the vexing issues facing the province, such as the upheaval over flags and parading among others.

Another of today's key findings shows that approval of the Assembly's performance has sunk to an all-time low of close to minus 60%. This ranks among the worst findings ever recorded for any government anywhere in the world. It is also 20 points below the Assembly's score when we asked the same question last May.

The numbers on parading and flag-flying – where the parties are sharply divided – will be of particular interest when inter-party talks open tomorrow in a Belfast hotel.

Dr Richard Haass, a former US envoy here, is chairing the five-party discussions to look at parading, flags and emblems, and the legacy of the past.

He has until the new year to produce a report charting the way forward on these difficult issues.

Our LucidTalk poll of 1,222 people across Northern Ireland suggests that, while none of them will be easy, parading may be the area where consensus is closest.

Those polled were questioned in the period running from August 26 until September 9.

This makes this the first scientifically selected sample of opinion to be taken here since the loyalist rioting in Belfast at the close of the World Police and Fire Games on August 10 and the disputed republican parade in Castlederg, which happened a day later on August 11.

The polling also followed a summer of protests around the rerouting of an Orange march away from Ardoyne shops on July 12.

So far this year, the financial cost of policing marches has been £28m. Respondents were asked to choose only one out of four options on parading.

A quarter expressed no opinion.

When these were stripped out, three-quarters of those expressing an opinion believed that either Parades Commission determinations should be obeyed or that "parades should only take place in areas where there is local agreement". These views were held mainly by Catholics, but also by a sizeable proportion of Protestants. The other quarter of those expressing an opinion believed that either the law should guarantee the right to parade irrespective of local feeling, or that the Parades Commission's determinations should be ignored, whatever the law says.

These feelings were confined almost exclusively to those identifying themselves as Protestants.

In practice, the Orange Order opposes the Parades Commission but spokesmen like Rev Mervyn Gibson, who is on the DUP's Haass talks team, accept that there should be legal regulation. If there is some prospect of consensus around the parading, opinion was more divided on flag-flying.

The findings show that there is still a deep well of Protestant discontent on the issue and division along religious lines. Only 31% of Protestants supported the proposition that councils should fly the Union flag every day.

However, there is little support for the status quo by which individual councils decide which flags to fly and how often.

Only 7.9% of people felt this situation should continue, or 10.1% when the undecided were excluded.

Widespread reluctance to leave such decisions to politicians may reflect disillusionment with the political system post-devolution. Only 9.4% of people felt the Assembly was functioning better than direct rule from Westminster.


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