Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Churchmen show true leadership

Church leaders have often been criticised in the past for sitting on the fence on controversial issues.

That charge certainly cannot be levelled at the Presbyterian Moderator, the Rev Roy Patton, and Archbishop Alan Harper, the Church of Ireland Primate. They condemned in the strongest possible terms the defiance of a Parades Commission ruling by bands accompanying a Royal Black Preceptory demonstration in Belfast last weekend, branding their actions outside a Roman Catholic church as blatantly sectarian and against the Christian values the loyal orders purport to espouse.

And the two church leaders also fired a broadside at unionist politicians, such as Policing Board member Jonathan Craig of the DUP, who have refused to condemn the actions of the bands.

Quite rightly, the two clerics wondered at the lack of political leadership.

It is a point that this newspaper has already made. Quite bizarrely, unionist politicians signed a letter before the demonstration complaining about the restrictions placed on it and then when violence flared and the law was broken, some remained mute and others apparently condoned what happened.

The churchmen's intervention - which will be applauded by every right-thinking member of their congregations - will put pressure on politicians to show similar leadership with other parades in the offing. The unionist politicians have serious questions to answer on this issue, just as republicans should be put on the spot over a hunger strike commemoration in Dungiven when mock weapons and paramilitary-style dress was paraded.

The Parades Commission is not without its faults, but it is the only process for resolving controversial demonstrations. If the political parties want to replace it, then they should sit down and hammer out a new agreement instead of absolving themselves of any responsibility.

Quite simply they should show the same courage, and wisdom, as the two church leaders.

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