Dialogue central to marching problems

Over 80 PSNI officers and seven civilians were injured when the Orange Order marched through nationalist north Belfast on July 12. David Kennedy, an eye-witness to events, writes dialogue remains the key to progress

ANOTHER TWELFTH of July passes and the Orange Order are happy. They've achieved what they wanted - the right to march wherever they wish regardless of the offence caused, or what the nationalist communities have to say.

Despite provocation by loyalists and the Orange Order's refusal to talk with local nationalist residents, many had believed the weekly efforts by Sinn Féin, community activists and clergymen to try and ensure a tensely difficult situation did not end up turning violent would succeed.

In previous weeks, the 'Tour of the North' Orange parade marched triumphantly through nationalist parts of north Belfast, while the weekend before saw the attempted murder of a family living on the route of the march by loyalists, who attacked their home and set it on fire as they slept upstairs.

The final straw came as the Parades Commission - the ad hoc and unaccountable body established to make determinations on whether marches should go ahead or not - decided to allow yet another Orange march pass though Ardoyne, Mountainview and the Dales.

The day of the twelfth started peacefully. Residents living on the route staged a sit-down protest, which was forcibly removed by members of the PSNI clad in full riot gear while a column of over 150 armoured Land Rovers and hundreds of PSNI and British Army personnel sealed the road and hemmed nationalists in. The second sit-down, as orangemen returned from the city centre later in the day, saw residents voluntarily end their protest in an attempt to calm trouble.

As the marchers approached, jeers and taunts from loyalists clad in paramilitary flags provoked some minor stone throwing while insults were exchanged. Protest stewards however maintained control.

In my view, the situation would have passed if not for the PSNI. They waited a mere 45 seconds (according to their official report issued later), before attacking protestors with water canon, batons, dogs and finally, lethal plastic bullets as violence escalated.

Control of the situation was forgone by the PSNI, who disempowered stewards and local community workers including, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Father Aidan Troy, the respected local priest, who were attacked with the water cannon.

Theoretically, the Commission is charged with making sure those involved with a contentious march endeavour to reach accommodation by showing respect and through meaningful dialogue. Those who make the effort are rewarded and those who don't are sanctioned.

Theory, however, is a wonderful thing. The Orange Order, the accompanying loyalist bands and supporters, have continually broken conditions of the Commission, and refuse to engage in dialogue.

As before, this year, the Parades Commission rewarded the Orange Order with determinations serving to perpetuate the current impasse; the refusal to enter into dialogue to resolve these issues. It's clearly a recipe for ongoing tension, disharmony and conflict.

The question Orange institutions must be asking is: "We get what we want through the current strategy, so why change?"

The Orange Order remains a sectarian, anti-Catholic organisation, exemplifying the ethos of British and unionist misrule and subjugation of nationalists and Catholics in the north of Ireland. The potential for conflict when they march through an area like Ardoyne cannot be overstated.

Meaningful dialogue remains the way forward. Nationalist residents have been willing to engage the Order to reach a compromise for some time now. The Orange Order still refuses to talk, the Parades Commission still reward them with its determinations and British ministers and unionist representatives still don't seem to realise that Orange dominance cannot continue and that people have a right to live free from sectarian harassment.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2005-08-22 12:13:17.
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