Resolving the Parading Conflict

Resolving the Parading Conflict

A number of groups have an influence and can make a positive contribution to resolving this conflict.

● The conflict over parading and protesting is a societal issue. Politicians need to step up to the mark and reflect the desires of their constituency, not a sectional interest within it.

Politicians need to acquaint themselves with the rules under which the Parades Commission operate. An Assembly motion made reference to, “the application by the three Ligoniel Lodges”. You notify to exercise a civil right you do not apply. The Commission operates from the basis of the fundamental right to parade and protest. This is a presumptive right not an absolute right. This is acknowledged by the Grand Orange Lodge.

Of the small percentage of restricted parades most of these are music restrictions. The Commission cannot “ban” any parade. Politicians need to understand the work of the Commission and not use inflammatory language about its decisions, or seek to pander to their own sectional interest.

● The media need to step up to the mark and report more accurately in such a volatile situation. The wise and precise use of non-emotive language would make a significant difference. The so called “Flag Protests” were in fact notified as Anti-Police protests.

The press have consistently used the word apply when making reference to a notification for a parade or protest. This conveys the idea that the Commission has much more power than it actually has. It sends out the wrong message, i.e., that you have to ask permission to exercise your civil right. This is an anathema to Orangemen.

The controversy over the Young Conway Volunteers behaviour outside St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church on 12 July 2012 is a prime example of bad communication. It was not just a matter of this band playing – but they sang the words of “The Famine Song”.

● The Police need to be more robust in dealing with both illegal parades/protests and breaches in determinations. The flag protests are a prime example. When arrests were made the protests at the City Hall were reduced to 150 who were ‘bussed-in’.

The same principles apply to the determinations of the Parades Commission. The police have the operational choice to either physically stop a parade or gather evidence for future prosecution. The wider community clearly expect to see consequences for breaches of the law, and would appreciate the PSNI vigorously pursuing the organisers afterwards. In spite of a multitude of breaches of the determinations, no organisers of parades were before the courts until recently, when five members of the Back Institution where found guilty and fined £150 each.

The relationship between the PSNI and the Parades Commission must be one of transparent honesty as different parading scenarios are examined.

● Those who wish to retain the tradition of parading need a strategic re-think and as a “Loyal” organisation engage with the Commission.

The parading fraternity need to grasp fact that the right to Parade is not an absolute right and the Commission will only intervene if there is a likelihood of civil disorder, a conflict of rights or a negative impact on community relations. They should consider a route and conditions which will prevent the Commission intervening.

Organisations must take responsibility for the parades which they notify, particularly those professing to be “Christ-centred, Bible-based, Church-grounded”. They must behave in a way which reflects their Christian profession. They also need to keep their word and stop playing “whataboutery”.

The tradition is not under threat. There has been a 30% increase in parades from the “loyalist” community over the last ten years and a 3% increase in the twelve months to March 2013.

● Those who protest have a presumptive right to do so. Any section of the community, who genuinely object to a particular parade, should show some tolerance. We are all confronted in our multicultural society with events which we find uncomfortable.

Protesting should be conducted in a dignified way, and not inflame the situation by making wild allegations. Sometimes it is the protesters who breach the determination.

It is against the background of organised protests, that the Protestant/Unionist community judge all protests. They fail to understand that the policy of Sinn Fein has changed in the light of their ‘equality agenda’ and that they have no control over many of the current Residents Groups.

The recent tendency in the unionist/loyalist community to ‘ape’ the ‘other side’ is seen in the procreation of protests. ‘Loyalist’ protesters need to recognise that these displays, which often lead to violence against the Crown Forces, do nothing to enhance the Union.

 

This article appeared in the Belfast News Letter on 4th June 2014

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