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OPEN FORUM is designed to stimulate vital debate concerning the future of our nation and people. As we favour debate as a means to inciting thought, no subject is taboo. Some viewpoints may differ from our own. This article is from David Hoey, a London-based Ulsterman, a corporate public relations and marketing consultant, and an occasional adviser to the Apprentice Boys of Derry. It is provided as a contribution to a public discussion on the Parades issue in Northern Ireland..

Parading in Northern Ireland
getting out of a hole that is deeper than it first appears!

AN ARTICLE by Paul Mellor (originally published in Issue 30, Ulster Nation), Orange Parades – a way out of the hole? suggested that repackaging parades as tourist events offered a panacea to problems of opposition to this most simple expression of Protestant culture. If only it were that simple. It is not the intention of this article to advise the best course of action with regard to parades. Instead, I will highlight a few realities that should be taken into account in considering what the best course of action might be.

Working as I have around the Maiden City Festival, and indeed alongside the parades issue for a number of years, on behalf of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, there is much to commend the creation of a broader cultural context for the understanding of parades. Londonderry is a success story, and a massive credit to Protestant creativity, imagination and resilience. It is also, sadly, an exception. Three points are relevant.

First, the Londonderry experience is one where the current Parades Commission has had no involvement. That can only be considered good fortune!

Secondly, all parties in the City have agreed to disagree and accepted the value of diversity in culture as something that will enhance and build confidence across the City, and across all communities. The people of the City were taken to the brink, have taken a step back, and everyone has benefited.

Finally, it must never be forgotten that Apprentice Boys’ willingness to reach accommodation has not been unique to Londonderry. In Belfast the Walker Club in Ballynafeigh entered dialogue with the LOCC. As the previous Parades Commission recognised in August 1999, the extensive dialogue never revealed exactly what the concerns of the LOCC were to which the Apprentice Boys might respond. That position has not changed since. Accommodation remains elusive.

Ormeau is not an isolated case. In Lurgan, it has only been in the past year that an identifiable residents group has emerged, yet parades have suffered unjustifiable rebuff for the past three. In Castlederg the situation is incomprehensible with respect to how the Parades Commission reaches its Determinations – parades sometimes curtailed and other times not. Elsewhere, parades are subject to Determination without the Apprentice Boys’ parade organiser being contacted by any representative of the Parades Commission.

Fact is, that with the exception of Londonderry, there has been little if any respect shown to the honest efforts of the Apprentice Boys to reach accommodation. Outside Londonderry, the political thrust of opposition is undiminished and the sectarian demonisation of their Protestant neighbours’ culture barely disguised.

The Parades Commission too has failed to provide an objective, transparent and credible process whereby the issues at hand can be aired, discussed and perhaps at the very least have some hope of resolution. It has singularly shown scant regard or sympathy to Protestant culture and given in repeatedly to a fear of the threat of Republican violence.

If the Parades Commission ever had any credibility, this is now lost on all who have any reason to be in contact. Far from being an arbiter of justice, it abuses the very law from which it derives its authority.

It is a basic principle of British justice – so basic it is known as ‘natural’ justice – that if the Commission believes a parade should not proceed then it must give and explain the reasons why it makes that Determination. The Commission’s process of deliberation and review is a mystery to all. The Commission sits in its tower in Belfast City Centre, above rebuke and beyond reproach – not even a House of Commons Select Committee is able to call it to account.

While the Commission’s Star Chamber remains unchallenged it matters little whether what flag flies over our Courts. The Parades Commission is an anathema to British law, demeaning all sense of right or justice, real or symbolic, and mocking the simple truths and principles for which generations have fought and died.

How do we climb out of this hole? The Apprentice Boys of Derry has always remained flexible and imaginative in its approach, retaining its core integrity and principles while seeking new ways to express and challenge convention. A deep hole, sure, but its not the first time the Apprentice Boys has been in such a position. There were those who said that the Boys would never again walk the Walls or, later, through the centre of the City of Londonderry. There were those who sneered at a week of Protestant culture as a mainstream cultural event.


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