Parades Commisiion: 'New Year should be new dawn for resolving parades issue'
We all have hopes and aspirations the dawning of a New Year brings, however the uncharted waters of Brexit and the political deadlock of 2017 indicates further uncertainty and challenges ahead.
In the case of the Orange Institution, our vision for 2018 is a stable Northern Ireland secure within the United Kingdom, with a strong economy supporting successful educational and health sectors. This will come about when progress is made on a range of issues, not least those emanating from our troubled past.
A key New Year's resolution by the Orange Institution is to reinvigorate the campaign to see the current biased parading legislation replaced.
Many wrongly believe that parading issues have largely been resolved. The fact is those who traditionally oppose parades have tactically chosen not to object as often.
However, should that change, and a new wave of intolerance manifest itself in complaints about parades, the present legislation will ensure determinations will find in favour of the protesters. In highlighting this unresolved issue, we seek to minimise the potential for malcontents in the future to promote cultural apartheid.
The Grand Lodge has always opposed the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, which was introduced at the behest of the republican and nationalist communities, as part of the so-called peace process. Her Majesty's Government did not deem the consent of the Unionist community necessary at that time, a decision of lasting negative consequence.
The parades issue is often only viewed through the prism of high-profile cases such as Drumcree and Donegall Street, but it has manifested itself over the years in many unnecessary and excessive restrictions on parades held in various towns and villages across Northern Ireland.
These decisions encourage no-go areas, damage community relations and foster division.
In essence, the Parades Commission and its working practices are now a major part of the problem. The Drumcree parade remains unresolved because the Parades Commission does the protesters' job for them. Portadown District have been on public record repeatedly stating they will meet with the residents to discuss the issue, but the residents say the issue is closed.
Unfortunately, the Commission continues to facilitate and reward such intransigence. Yet in other cases, cites refusing to engage as a reason for spiteful determinations - duplicitous hypocrisy.
The Orange Institution has been consistent in our position that the time has come for the unending institutional discrimination by this anti-parade body to be addressed once and for all.
The legislation needs replaced and we have repeatedly said that the only way to achieve this is through politics. But to date, politics has failed the Unionist community in this respect, because successive Secretary of States continually hand a veto on change to republicans and nationalists. In reality, why would they support change when the legislation and its out-workings are skewed in their favour?
Politics needs to work for all communities, not just those who need weaned off violence.
The bottom line is the current system is clearly not fit-for-purpose - it is institutionally biased, totally unaccountable, it's decisions are unchallengeable (you can only appeal against its processes) and everything is conducted in what amounts to a secret court.
The issue needs addressed not because unionists demand it, but because the legislation is simply wrong and goes against the principles of natural justice.
The Parades Commission and relevant legislation must be replaced if aspirations for a more tolerant society are to be truly realised. Introducing new fair legislation is the right thing to do - it's too important to be part of any horse-trading deal.
In our meetings with political representatives, we have outlined our desire for new parading legislation, which is fair and equitable for all, and a system that is transparent and fully accountable.
In 2018, we will be renewing this request.
We believe the overwhelming number of people from all communities want a stable future. Introducing a reasonable and impartial regulatory system for public processions would represent a good start.
Rev Mervyn Gibson is the grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland