Belfast Telegraph

Some parties do protest too much in this parade charade

A DUP/Sinn Fein 'fix' is not the solution to the vexed marching issues, writes Alex Attwood. But shoring up the work of the Parades commission could be the answer

When the Parades Commission has got decisions wrong - particularly over the last few years - the SDLP bluntly told the Commission our view.

But we did not beat up on the very existence of the Commission; rather, the SDLP showed leadership on parades and around the Parades Commission.

Nationalism knows that, in the round and over the years, the Commission stopped unwelcome feet trampling over people's rights.

Garvaghy Road graphically proved that politicians and the police should never again take parading decisions.

That is the value of the Commission. We must not go back to a flawed approach.

While the SDLP led on all of this, others didn't. The SDLP never described the Parades Commission as 'defunct', 'a beaten docket' or 'cheerleaders for sectarianism'. That was Gerry Kelly, John O'Dowd and Sinn Fein.

This was messing about. This made it easy for unionism and the Orange Order to circle and target the Commission.

In doing so, Sinn Fein played into the hands of the Orange Order. What would be next?

St Andrews was next. Sinn Fein agreed to a DUP 'review' of the Parades Commission.

Lord Ashdown came to town and was joined by the republican chief, Sean Murray and top Orangeman Mervyn Gibson. Together they proposed "new structures and procedures", with new parades legislation "early in 2009".

It was ill-disguised code for the abolition of the Parades Commission. This is more messing.

In doing so, Sinn Fein played into the hands of the Orange Order. What would come next?

Hillsborough was next. Sinn Fein and the DUP set up a 'working group' on parades.

The SDLP met the 'working group' on parades last Friday. We were constructive, making convincing arguments about how to move parading forward.

We told the group that the SDLP, our electorate and nationalism would not go along with a political fix on the Parades Commission, or a local fix on disputed parades.

The SDLP argued for an escalation in mediation and developing understanding of the marching tradition.

We outlined positive proposals for going forward. Once again the SDLP led. The 'working group' really had very little to say in reply.

It was all a bit odd, though. Over the last week, while the DUP and Sinn Fein were meeting on parades in Stormont Castle, they were fighting the bit out in public.

The DUP appears to think that not only is the Parades Commission down-and-out, but that the Orange Order will march again, where they have not been welcome.

In response, Adams and McGuinness appear to protest too much about the Garvaghy Road, Ardoyne or elsewhere as if, somehow, they have been found out.

Whatever is going down, two things are clear.

First, it is a downright bad idea to leave politicians to sort out parades and certainly not the DUP and Sinn Fein, joined now by Murray and Gibson, the very people who proposed the abolition of the Parades Commission.

Second, it is a good approach to protect the Parades Commission, create understanding of the marching tradition and escalate mediation to resolve local disputes.

That is what SDLP proposals do. The Orange Order may not like them. They may not be the emerging DUP/Sinn Fein 'fix'.

But they are a better way to move the parades issue forward. They are the right way for nationalism - and for the wider community.

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