It’s clear the pressure is piling up for the parade at the weekend, some of it no doubt deliberate. Staff at the Parades Commission building have been told to evacuate this afternoon. Sinn Fein’s last minute involvement looks to have been forced on them by what had looked like a fairly minor protest by micro Republican pressure group Éirígí. The parade itself had been known about for weeks. And much of the media running has been made by fairly junior members of the party. And now it seems the place chosen for the gathering for the party#s protest actually clashes with Mass at St Mary’s in Chapel Lane, rumoured to be one of a number of problems highlighted by a late application by the SDLP to the Commission for amendment by both the Army and the (legal) protesters.
The SDLP believe that steps can be taken to de-escalate present fears and unease. This would not be a ban on a parade or a protest. But statements can be made and actions can be taken to help diffuse the situation. Everybody, including the British Army and Sinn Fein, clearly have a responsible to do so.
The last thing that people in Belfast want is more tension and anxiety in the run up to the weekend. This situation can be turned around. The SDLP will work privately and have conversations in an attempt to do so. A review by the Parades Commission can send out the message that everybody has more to do to protect community relations and help public order.
As Brian notes, Gordon Brown has indicated that the parade will go ahead. Sinn Fein appears caught in a nasty cleft stick: needing to look sufficiently hard line in low level competition for activists (rather than voters as such) with Éirígí in certain select Republican areas. And to show the kind of leadership it displayed in the run up the the Love Ulster demonstration in Dublin a few years back.
Conall Devitt reckons it’s yet another vacuum the city could do without.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty