Belfast Telegraph

MLAs: Step up to the mark when it comes to marches

The Executive parties must take the lead in finding a permanent solution to the parades impasse, says Trevor Ringland

On Armistice Sunday, last weekend, when the emphasis should have been on respectful remembrance, a loyalist band played a disrespectful song at a flashpoint in north Belfast.

This is another incident which raises a number of important, unresolved issues.

We are going to need a mechanism to resolve disputes about parading for the foreseeable future.

I believe the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland recognise what a difficult job the Parades Commision does and largely, they back its members.

At the moment, there is no alternative to the commission and the police do not want, or need, the responsibility for making determinations. To find a solution there needs to be an agreement between the parties involved. When that fails, any form of mediation is likely to be based on certain basic principles.

Firstly, there will be a further attempt to broker a deal. If that fails, it will be necessary to reach an independent determination. Finally, that determination can be subject to challenge and judicial review by the courts.

Unfortunately, some politicians showed little regard for these tenets of the rule of law this summer. The failure of minister Nelson McCausland to unambiguously back law and order was outrageous and it would be unthinkable in almost any other Western democracy.

It is hardly surprising that the Executive cannot devise a shared future strategy and the lack of leadership from the Executive parties contributes to the problems which our society faces.

This summer proved we are accepting the perpetuation of hatreds which should have been consigned to the past long ago.

The band which acted so offensively outside St Patrick's church did eventually apologise but worryingly it did not seem to recognise that it had done anything wrong.

Perhaps the best way to break down that mentality is to make the bandsmen meet the people they offended, to explain their actions. And let's be clear: the behaviour of the band was offensive. It insulted not only the parishioners, but every Catholic in Northern Ireland and beyond.

We cannot simply allow hatred to continue unchecked, whether it's bandsmen outside St Patrick's, or by rioters on Donegall Street.

Sectarianism and bigotry disfigure our society but there are many examples where they have been faced down and defeated.

The Orange Order, the Royal Black Preceptory and other marching institutions will be reflecting hard on this summer's events.

The vast majority of parades do not cause problems, but a small number of incidents alienate and offend Catholics.

The institutions must do everything in their power to avoid trouble and dealing with its consequences when it does.

There are questions too for loyalist groups. What will their contribution be to their communities? Many have done solid peacemaking work, but can they now take that step away from the past and create for themselves a new role and confront socio-economic issues in their areas?

Certainly, paramilitarism is no longer acceptable and it should be dealt with by the justice system. Everyone accepts that too many of our young people have already died, or gone to prison.

Nationalists and republicans must acknowledge the involvement of dissidents in the trouble around protests against parades and the threat which that poses. They wish to replicate the old tactic of using Orange marches to increase tensions and create violence.

The growing influence this strategy gives dissidents over a small number of young people must be directly challenged from within that part of our community.

Because we all agree that we've had enough of our young people dying, killing, or messing up their lives for Ulster or Ireland.

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