Belfast Telegraph

If residents say 'no' to Orange parades, what is there left to talk about?

The 'dialogue' outlined in Stormont House Agreement is impossible unless nationalists are willing to compromise, says Samuel Morrison

In the aftermath of the Stormont House Agreement there was much discussion about parading because Unionists had given a pledge to the Ligoneil Lodges that there would be no negotiation on the issue until the Twaddell dispute was resolved.

The agreed position of the Unionist parties was that a refusal to engage on parading was the one telling point of pressure we had on Theresa Villiers.

It came as a surprise therefore that the Stormont House Agreement included a section on parading.

It envisages OFMDFM bringing proposals to the Executive on the devolution of parading to the Assembly by June 2015 – the month AFTER the Westminster election.

Significantly they do not say anything about a presumption in favour of parades on main arterial routes as such are assumed to be shared space. Nor is there anything to suggest that when considering if a parading should go ahead weight should be given to the fact that many have been following the same route for generations.

It is also worth noting that Stormont House states: “Encouraging and facilitating direct, meaningful and sustained local dialogue should be at the heart of any new regulatory system for parades and protests”.

The question which isn’t addressed here is that there are a finite number of things which can be discussed about any parade.

You can have a parade at which only hymns are played or where there is no music at all. Flags can be furled. Banners can be furled. You can limit the numbers on parade. Limits can be placed on the number of supporters. Supporters can be stopped from following the parade. The time at which the parade takes place can be changed.

But the question which those who say there has to be “sustained local dialogue” have to answer is – once all of the above has been discussed and the answer is still, “No, we will not accept a parade” what is there left to talk about?

The protest camp in North Belfast is now well into its second year. The dispute surrounding Drumcree has been ongoing since the mid-1990s. Yet in all that time I have yet to hear residents who object to the parades spell out exactly what the Loyal Orders would have to do in order to make their presence tolerable for five minutes.

What would the “sustained local dialogue” be about when the basic problem with the parade cannot or will not be articulated?

Could it be that the root of the problem is that there are people in Northern Ireland who, when it comes to “their” area, simply don’t want a Protestant about the place?

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