| 12.3°C Belfast

It’s time to re-route our thinking and converge on Tolerance Street

It takes a lot of dedication to drive from Dundalk or Derry just to be affronted in Ardoyne.

It is ridiculous to most people that peace and stability should be threatened by the unquenchable desire of a small number of angry people to protest violently as a group of Orangemen march through north Belfast on their way to join a larger parade in the city centre.

This was not intended as a peaceful protest.

It was part of a scheme by dissident republicans to upstage what they see as an apostate Sinn Fein and, by creating as much mayhem as possible, to destabilise the devolved administration at Stormont.

North Belfast, with its numerous sectarian interfaces and ironically named ‘peace walls’, has been a particular cockpit of conflict with more murders to the acre than any other part of Northern Ireland.

Ardoyne has traditionally been a flashpoint several times each year as marching Orangemen cross into Catholic territory where people have suffered, more than most, the weight of the Troubles and where the memory of inter-communal bitterness extends over generations.

Over recent years a great deal of effort has been put into managing potentially contentious events at this particular interface.

Local politicians, clergy and community workers work tirelessly to forestall trouble and to take the heat out of the situation when trouble does boil up.

This is quiet, behind- the-scenes work, building confidence and mutual tolerance, heroic in its way, and a main cause for hope that things can get better and that the society can grope its way out of the jungle of sectarian strife.

It is this very success, however, which made the local dissidents and their friends and supporters across Northern Ireland all the more determined to use yesterday’s parade as an occasion to turn the clock back by about 30 years.

Society in Northern Ireland might usefully ask itself whether it wishes to be torn apart in this way, and might reflect, too, that with the devolution of policing and police budgets, the money needed to police parades where there is a threat of confrontation means less to spend on schools, hospitals or social services.

All of which suggests that it is past time for the community as a whole to face up to the issues of which conflicts about parades are a symptom, for nationalists to accept that real tolerance means not the suppression of difference but the celebration of diversity, and for the loyal orders to decide how they wish to be perceived by Catholics, and how they too can contribute to the creation of a more stable and fair society.

The recent vote by which the Grand Lodge rejected the proposals of a DUP/Sinn Fein working party on parading has been interpreted as proof of intransigence, a victory for the hardliners.

But if, as reported, the vote was close, it also indicates the debate within the order between those who wish to present themselves as a religious and cultural organisation, prepared to explain themselves and their values to the wider community, and the traditionalists who prefer confrontation, between those who wish to influence the politics of unionism and those who would withdraw from that field.

The Orange Order needs to open itself to dialogue, not only with residents' groups where parading routes are disputed, but more widely in the form of cultural exchanges and the building of mutual understanding at community level.

Catholics, for their part, could transform the situation by showing they are prepared to accept that, like any other institution, Orangeism is not monolithic and that the loyal orders are capable of change, too.

There are mental walls to be removed before those of bricks and mortar can be demolished.

The situation could be transformed by a dramatic gesture of generosity — and nowhere more dramatically than at the running sore that is Drumcree — by not opposing marches, but by welcoming them. Imagine the impact of an invitation to the Portadown Orangemen to march, even once, down the Garvaghy Road, applauded by those residents who wish to do so, ignored by those who would rather not.

Imagine, too, the chagrin of those Orangemen who only wish to march in order to cause annoyance.

They would presumably march off to their own dissident Continuity Orange Order.

All peaceful and sensible routes lead to turning the Twelfth into a Northern Mardi Gras, a carnival of music and colour which all could enjoy.

That would, indeed, annoy some people.

Belfast Telegraph