Belfast Telegraph

Orange Order urged to build on peaceful Twelfth

By Liam Clarke

Leading DUP MP Sammy Wilson has called on the Orange Order to get into talks with residents' groups as soon as possible to nail down the gains they made from the peaceful Twelfth.

He was blunt about the need to get talking to find a lasting resolution to the marching issue.

The former Finance Minister said: "The Orange shouldn't leave talking for too long. There is a need to strike while the iron is hot and put it up to the people who are the road block to parades.

"Far, far too often Sinn Fein have been let off the hook because they haven't been put to the test.

"Now is the time to say 'if we talk the talk can we walk the walk'?" the DUP MP said.

He added that it was now clear that "just because there is a contentious parade you do not inevitably end up with a pile of violence or a long legacy of even more intractable problems".

Mr Wilson, often tipped as a future DUP leader, pledged that there would be political support for the Orange Order in its efforts but added: "There has been no suggestion from us (the unionist politicians) that we intend to up the ante and destabilise things further.

"If anything, we need to get a bit of stability now and that is what we are aiming for."

Like many senior unionists he feels that the Orange Order has come out of this Twelfth of July with its reputation enhanced for successfully managing disconcert at the Parades Commission determination on the Crumlin Road march and preventing violence.

Mr Wilson's comments will add to the rising hopes of a fresh start to an attempt to solve the parading issue and many will agree with his analysis.

Being in a position to deliver on any bargain you strike is always a good way to enter negotiations.

It creates confidence and trust.

The Order needs to do more than simply demand nationalist tolerance of its position. It needs to explain itself to point to other areas where nationalist communities have accepted loyal order parades and where things have gone smoothly.

Londonderry, where a once fiercely contested Apprentice Boys march is now accepted by the whole community, is one example.

The Order prefers to cite Rossnowlagh. That Donegal village hosts the Republic's only Twelfth of July parade with only a token garda presence to keep an eye. Next year Michael D Higgins, the Irish President, has been asked to attend.

There are others. This year saw a large parade in Irvinestown, a 75% Catholic town.

First Minister Peter Robinson attended the Twelfth in Ballinderry, another mainly nationalist area.

Edward Stevenson, the Grand Master, personally addressed a large gathering in Dungannon, another majority nationalist town.

Did it cross his mind that there was a certain irony when, in his address, he complained to the brethren about "the intolerance and lack of respect displayed by nationalists and republicans to our valued traditions"?

There are now probably more Orange parades than at any time in history. Many take place in mainly Catholic areas, and Orange culture is subsidised by both the taxpayer and Europe.

The Order is also fortunate because of the political support that the unionist parties have given it in the run-up to this Twelfth.

Mr Robinson and Mike Nesbitt of the UUP stuck out their necks to help the Order devise strategy.

The centrepiece of this approach is a commission of inquiry into the parading situation in north Belfast. This idea was first suggested by the Belfast Telegraph and it is not a means of putting the Parades Commission on trial or supplanting it.

The Order would be foolish to put too much store by its own propaganda line that the commission is discredited, irrational, daft and doomed.

It cannot afford to overplay its hand.

That much was made clear in a judicial review last Friday which considered whether the Parades Commission had been justified in allowing the Ligoniel lodges to walk past Ardoyne shops in the morning but not in the evening.

Mr Justice Weir found the distinction "entirely justified", pointing out there had previously been more trouble in the evening than the morning.

He also backed the Parades Commission's finding that the Orange Order had not held consistent enough dialogue with residents.

After this knockback the Order should realise there is no legal silver bullet.

Instead it needs to make a sincere and sustained effort to convince local residents that a march is acceptable.

This cannot be a box-ticking exercise of holding a few token meetings; it has to be sustained engagement.

The commission suggested by the Belfast Telegraph is an effective, structured way to do that.

A judge, or other senior legal figure, could lead it; it could sample opinion and promote dialogue in north Belfast; it could test the depth of opinion for and against the parade, and look at the situation in other areas.

Hopefully this would produce agreement before the next marching season. If it didn't then the commission could report on how well both sides engaged and if a parade should be allowed.

The process would need time and space. It needs, as Mr Wilson said, political stability, not chaos at Stormont.

It deserves a commission to sort it; it does not deserve to dominate politics for the next year.

Belfast Telegraph


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