Although we risk getting snowed under with posts about parading, this latest overview is worth another entry. In last nights Commons debate the linkage between devolving justice and policing and a new parades regime has never been put more clearly by Peter Robinson. I recommend reading it in full. Devolution will not take place unless or until the final Ashdown report is approved. Theres still no news on when that report will even be published (why not isnt this the NIOs business and doesnt delay implicate them in stalling on J&P?). So, as matters stand, as theres no immediate likelihood of agreement on a new parades regime, and therefore no agreement on transferring the powers. Sinn Fein of course do not take part in Commons debates. But the DUP and the SDLP have different interpretations on the role prescribed by the interim Ashdown report for council officials in approving parades, and the further burden that would be placed on what Mark Durkan calls the bureaucratic wing of the OFDFM in trying to resolve disputes. For the SDLP, these would be too hot for officials to handle. But the DUP reply is if there is an end to the exploitation of parades for political gain and if you really want the devolution of justice and policing, why not treat the resolution of parades as an administrative matter the system ought to be able to deal with? In the case of the tiny handful serious disputes, why not leave it to the courts to rule on the competing civil rights? The appeals to human rights and an end playing politics with parades shrewdly uses old Sinn Fein tactics against them. Clearly, Robinson believes he holds the moral advantage, although his tongue may be in his cheek just a little. In the debate, he described the deadlock with crystal clarity, focusing
on Gerry Adams . (Extracts below the fold).Mr. Adams and his proxy may rue the day that they linked the future of the Ashdown review to the devolution of policing and justice powers, but, in that interim report, that is precisely what they did; and, just as Sinn Fein insisted that changes in parading arrangements could not move forward until policing and justice functions were devolved, I, too, indicate that those functions cannot be devolved until we have moved forward with the necessary changes in parading.
The DUP leader accused Gerry Adams of using the whole parades issue to stir up trouble to win political concessions a point accepted by Mark Durkan.
Let us compare the rights that the Court articulated with the strategy that republicans organised and orchestrated in opposing lawful parades. Gerry Adamss now infamous briefing, fortuitously caught on tape by RTÉ, is chillingly cynical. Let me remind hon. Members of the unguarded but authentic words of Mr. Adams. He said:Ask any activist in the north, did Drumcree happen by accident?, and they will tell you, no. Three years of work on the Lower Ormeau Road, Portadown, and parts of Fermanagh and Newry, Armagh and in Bellaghy and up in Derry. Three years of work went into creating that situation and fair play to those people who put the work in. They are the type of scene changes that we have to focus on and develop and exploit.The situation to which Mr. Adams refers was one in which those seeking to exercise their convention rights were prevented from doing so by violence and by the threat of violence. As I said, the demand for parading to be seen in a rights-based framework is one that every citizen of the United Kingdomindeed, of any democracy worth the namecan comfortably support.
Let me dare to make the point that no matter what role Sinn Fein had in the creation of parading disputes, it is now in the interests as much of Sinn Fein as of Unionists to find a resolution.
Yes, the parades issue was used by Sinn Fein to contrive difficulties and tensions that would lead to wider political stand-offs. It is very easy to stroke prejudice in one community and to stoke prejudice in another, creating a crisis. That is partly what was happening. However, Sinn Fein were not alone in winding people up at that time. Other political leaders were doing the same and were playing into Sinn Feins hands. One of the successes of the Parades Commission has been to defuse all that potential.
I have a responsibility to gauge when such confidence exists, and my best advice to the House is that, in order to increase public confidence sufficiently to create confidence in the devolution of policing and justice powers, a resolution of the parading issue will be indispensable. In particular, such an outcome will not include the Parades Commission.
And with an air of sweet reason, he concluded:
The resolution of parading issues in five areasjust five areaswould at a stroke transform the atmosphere in Northern Ireland and increase community confidence, with all the attendant benefits that that would bring.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London