Belfast Telegraph

Derry, Londonderry, the Maiden City, the Walled City: Both a story of pain and of hope

The Maiden City Accord is step forward for vision of dignified, respectful difference

By John McCallister

If you are not from the city, what do you think about when you hear the words 'Derry/Londonderry'? There has been a very painful recent past. Nationalist and unionist tears have been shed, and the voices of both political traditions have been raised regarding events in the Maiden City.

There is, however, another side to the story of the Maiden City. It's a confident commercial centre, with a vibrant cultural life. The great historical dramas of the 17th century were played out around its walls. And this two-cathedral city has a rich ecclesiastical past going back to Columba, a saint important to both the Catholic and Protestant traditions.

There are, then, two stories of the Maiden City. One story is of bitter division and great pain. The other story is one of hope, of shared space and shared history.

It's this second story - the story of hope - that the recent Maiden City Accord both emerges from and contributes to. The Accord is an initiative by the Loyal Orders in the Maiden City to promote a dignified, respectful parading culture.  Amidst the failures of the unionist political parties to address the issues around parading - walking out of talks on a replacement to the Parades Commission is, at best, an odd strategy - the Maiden City Accord offers a real way forward, both for the Loyal Orders and for the entire community.

Now, yes, it doesn't solve the parades debate. However, it perhaps does something more important.  It acts from a spirit of generosity even while the debates around parades continue.  It promotes the culture of respect that Northern Ireland needs of we are to move forward as a shared community.

Dignified parading; respect for all places of worship; no illegal flags; discouraging the consumption of alcohol by parade participants; respectful communication with police and general public. This, as the Accord states, is a "common sense approach". It builds on the important work done by the Loyal Orders in the Maiden City - especially the Apprentice Boys of Derry - during recent years. It won't solve Ardoyne - but it does offer a blue-print of how the Loyal Orders across Northern Ireland should approach parading.

Too often in Northern Ireland, we blame our problems on our diversity - as if it would be better if we were an all-Orange or all-Green society.

But not only cannot we not be a monolithic society, we shouldn't be.  The problem is not our diversity.  The problem is our failure to respect and celebrate our differences.  Just as the new communities that have become part of our society in recent years - Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Polish - enrich our life together through their cultural and religious traditions, so too we in this region are enriched by our historic cultural and religious traditions. The Loyal Orders, no less than the Irish language and Gaelic sports, are part of this rich diversity that should be celebrated.

The Maiden City Accord is a step forward for this vision of dignified, respectful difference.  Let's hope that the leadership of the Loyal Orders and political unionism - and political nationalism - take notice.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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