Belfast Telegraph

Orange Order must take some responsibilty for Twelfth rioting

By Liam Clarke

Sectarian clashes in north and east Belfast, water cannon called out, baton rounds fired and serious injuries.


This is a dismal but predictable end to this year's Twelfth of July celebrations.

Now is the moment for unionist politicians to step in to push for the protests to end, and for nationalists to make life as easy as possible for them.

Despite its public pleas for peace the Orange leadership must take some responsibility for the trouble.

The words of many Orange leaders have fuelled an atmosphere of tension since last week when they first suspected that the Parades Commission would ban a number of lodges from passing along a 300-yard stretch of road past the Ardoyne shops.

One Orange source spoke of a possible rerun of the flag disputes which plunged the province into chaos last winter.

We were told that the Twelfth would not be over till all members were “home safe”. Others said that this meant a stand-off at Woodvale which could last days with a view to forcing the Secretary of State or the police to overturn the Parades Commission's ruling.

This has all the making of a full-blown political crisis which, whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, is hardly justified by what is at stake.

Tens of thousands of Orangemen and hundreds of thousands spectators enjoyed a quiet and peaceful Twelfth, often walking through majority nationalist areas like Rasharkin or Londonderry without let or hindrance.

Over the year the Order has received nearly £4 million in Peace III funding. In March Sammy Wilson, the Finance Minister, granted it even more, £4.5 million to be precise, in rate relief for its premises at a time when many householders are struggling to meet their bills.

This is not an oppressed or marginalised organisation despite the setback which it received in a single Parades Commission determination.

There is a need to get things into proportion and to stick to the facts.

The Order, for instance, made a feature in many speeches of the Maze Conflict Resolution Centre, an issue which it clearly feels it can use to bring pressure on the DUP.

“It was blatantly obvious that there would be opposition to such a proposal, just as there would be if the decision had been to build it on the site of a former Army base” thundered the Rev Alan Irwin in Ballinamallard.

A fair point — if it wasn't for the fact that the Maze site housed an Army base as well as a prison.

It took the G8 summit and months of work to change our image after the flag protests. If we have a repeat performance the damage — as Mr Wilson pointed out — will be even harder to undo.

The DUP's message wobbled in recent days; it frequently majored on its sympathy for protests and what it saw as justifiable anger at the Parades Commission.

While it consistently called for no violence, there was a less steady emphasis on the need to obey the law. The DUP motion for the recalled Assembly on Tuesday gives it a chance to put this right. It speaks of the “illogical but lawful” decision of the Parades Commission.

The emphasis needs to be on accepting lawful decisions until we can change the law democratically.

The only credible stance a party of Government can take is to back the rule of law at moments of crisis, even while working for legal reform.

In practical terms, such change can only come with the agreement of nationalists. That means building calm and dialogue rather than engaging in partisan grandstanding at Stormont or on the street.

We also need to hear from the calmer voices within Orangeism — and they do exist. Rev Stanley Gamble, for instance, spoke eloquently of the duty of Orangemen to set an example of kindness and consideration towards others.

“Let your light shine! And remember by doing so you are making a real difference in the world as you show the love of our heavenly Father by what you do for others” he urged his Orange brethren at Magheragall.

It is hard to argue that everyone showed such a shining example last night.

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