Belfast Telegraph

Why Stormont should look to Londonderry for solution

By Ed Curran

The political parties meeting tomorrow at Stormont need to ask searching questions of themselves and the communities they serve.

This is not a time for trading more insults across the sectarian divide, but to renew the search for solutions within each community to the fractious issue of flags, emblems and parades.

Somewhat lost or forgotten in the noise of rioting over the Twelfth was the news last week that the former US envoy Dr Richard Haass has been appointed to chair all-party talks and to try and find answers by Christmas.

He has his work cut out for him. He will have to focus minds long before the next marching season and not leave negotiations to the eleventh hour as happened with the Orange Order last week in advance of the disputed Ardoyne parade.

There were two Northern Irelands on display over the Twelfth. The first was inhabited by the great majority of people basking in the summer sunshine by the sea and in the countryside, and, yes, attending the many peaceful Orange Order demonstrations across the province of Ulster, including Donegal.

Then we had the other Northern Ireland on our television screens, as if on a different planet in riot-torn streets of north and east Belfast where people once again lost the run of themselves.

The riots beg several questions for the population at large exasperated by the senselessness of what happened in Belfast.

How much longer can the new Northern Ireland watch powerlessly as a mob of unruly citizens in north and east Belfast dictate such a destructive image of our society, driving people and investment away from our shores?

The long-suffering wider public are surely entitled to say to the Stormont Executive and to unionist leaders and the Orange Order: enough is enough. The world neither begins nor ends at the bottom of the Newtownards Road or in Short Strand, or around a block of shops at Ardoyne yet that too often seems to be the case.

Last year it was republicans. This year it was so-called loyalists. The mobs mouth different slogans but their motivation is the same and mirrored in their madness to cause as much trouble as possible. The police can only hold the line while the Parades Commission is caught in a tangled web of sectarianism, unwanted by some, commended by others, but generally in an increasingly impossible position.

The weight of responsibility for the weekend events must rest on the shoulders of unionist politicians and the Orange Order chiefs who called for protests but had no idea how to put the genie back in the bottle when it escaped.

Why did it take the Orange Order until a week before the Twelfth to engage with nationalist residents in north Belfast? How come Londonderry could host a major Orange parade in a predominantly nationalist city without the need for any Parades Commission intervention? Why have the Apprentice Boys of Derry developed a much improved relationship in that same city in recent years while the Orange leadership in Belfast continues to stumble over itself?

Why did the Orange Order reject the proposals of the politicians at Stormont, not least the Democratic Unionist party, for an alternative to the Parades Commission? Only the politicians at Stormont, certainly not the Secretary of State nor the Chief Constable, can resolve the remaining disputes over a handful of contentious parades.

The Twelfth is a great celebration of deep-rooted cultural and social tradition, a street pageant unique in Europe for its music and colour, a day of relaxation and enjoyment for many tens of thousands of people, and with enormous tourist potential.

The challenge to nationalists and republicans is still to come to terms with the culture of Orangeism. The Twelfth in Derry was a glowing example of how tolerance can be fostered in even the most difficult and divided of cities. The Twelfth night in north and east Belfast was the very antithesis of what people of all classes, creeds and political persuasion need for their futures.

The main unionist parties must persuade the Orange Order chieftains, particularly in Belfast, to reach a constructive conclusion on how to deal with contentious parades.

Assuming they cannot tolerate the existing Parades Commission, what have they in mind to replace it? Let's see a proposal which has a chance of winning cross-community respect and let's see real engagement, not at the last minute but with some urgency and with a view to a solution before Christmas.

Belfast Telegraph


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