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Orangemen must walk away from disputed parades

Marching - particularly where it is not wanted - is not going to be sorted out at a high political level. This is one of those on-the-ground issues in north Belfast, Portadown, and on the Ormeau Road, which for years have been the places of standoff and confrontation.

If you can't answer the questions in those areas, then they won't be answered in any political initiative, or in a new adjudicating process. But all of this was walked back into politics during the Hillsborough negotiations. Then, the big issue was the devolution of policing and justice - a date for that to happen. And if it didn't happen, Sinn Fein had the nuclear option.

Martin McGuinness could resign as Deputy First Minister, and politics would be in turmoil. Not the preferred option, but a possibility.

In the way these negotiations work, if one side was getting something, then the other side also had to get something. So the Parades Commission and marching became part of the talking, and of the deal.

There would be another way - some other mechanism - to decide on controversial parades. So, what would it be called?

"I can't believe it's not the Parades Commission," one talks insider quipped - meaning that whatever you called it, the issues would still be the same.

But there was a bigger problem. Some senior DUP figures not only wanted a new body, but "real progress" on the ground. And reading between those few words meant marching where it is not welcome.

It is much easier said than done. Drumcree - where there hasn't been a parade along the Garvaghy Road for more than a decade - was back in play. An issue that had gone away, appeared again.

Loyalist paramilitary leader Jackie McDonald intervened. He urged Orangemen to walk away from those marching disputes in Portadown and on the Ormeau Road.

His argument was straightforward: the parades were not wanted by the nationalist communities in those areas and, in the absence of local agreement, shouldn't proceed.

It was controversial.

But McDonald and others from his world know the on-the-ground reality. Often, they have been left to tidy up the mess - to keep the peace on interfaces where parades and protests meet.

Many people don't see all the other problems being dealt with in the background - especially at this time of year; problems with bonfires, flags, and interface tensions. Some of it spilled over in that rioting at Broadway just days ago.

Trying to keep the peace is a huge effort; it's round the clock, and means constant conversations across the many peacelines. It means loyalists and republicans helping the police, helping their communities, and helping get this place through this time of year.

It has to be worked for.

There is no political solution to the parading issue, and there is no easy solution. And, if the solution is about marching where it is not wanted, then this question may never be answered.

Does anyone really believe that after all of the experiences of the mid 1990s, the people of the Garvaghy Road or the Ormeau Road are going to welcome a parade?

We all know the answer. McDonald knew, and that is why he made the controversial suggestion Orangemen should walk away.

If they don't, then this issue will fester for many more years.

All sorts of expectations and demands can be raised in political negotiations. It doesn't mean the difficult question has been answered. Remember the demand for photographic proof of IRA arms decommissioning. It didn't happen.

And, after all the talking about marching and the Parades Commission, are we any closer to a breakthrough?

The answer is no.