Two interesting pieces in two different papers impinge upon the future fate of the Parades Commisson. So far as we know the Ashdown reports argues for its abolition, and replacement with a two tier mechanism putting dispute resolution in the hands of local councils, with appeals being run up to OFMdFM… Yep, that OFMdFM… The one that can’t make any decisions about what papers to put before the Executive… Given the stand off, Fionnuala O’Connor in today’s Irish News doesn’t believe that it can be got rid of:
The DUP will almost certainly be unable to wipe away the Parades Commission and the programmes that have made parades more orderly, the loyal orders more responsive to complaints about routes and which have reduced the number of recurrent crisis points to something close to the total of seven cited by Gerry Adams. An incoming Conservative government in London will be crass and uncaring in many respects but is unlikely to take chances with a comparatively peaceful Northern Ireland. The Parades Commission has made mistakes but its overall record is plain it has helped to pacify a source of grievance and discord.
And Liam Clarke in the Newsletter wonders why Peter Robinson has upped the ante on policing and by including the Parades Commission as a dead breaker:
Senior members of both Sinn Fein and the DUP who have assured me there could be a real crunch coming. Yet these are two issues about which there have been no demonstrations, no mass petitions and no threats of violence.
They are seldom mentioned except by the politicians and commentators who operate within the Stormont bubble. It is hard to see how the devolution of policing became such a republican cause that Sinn Fein held up Executive meetings for five months over the head of it.
Whatever happens, the Chief Constable will retain operational independence and the Policing Board will hold his force accountable. The minister will do little more than administer the budget, though there may be more work on the justice side. When Sinn Fein and the British government made it such a big issue that gave the DUP leverage which Peter Robinson used to extract concessions.
So why, at the last moment, did Robinson elevate the abolition of the Parades Commission, long a policy objective, into a deal breaker? Statistics would suggest it isn’t such a do or die issue as all that. The Omnibus Survey, conducted by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) shows growing acceptance of the Commission. Just over half the population (56 per cent) now believe that the Commission has improved the situation overall compared to 20 per cent in 2001. For Protestants alone, approval for the Commission has gone up from eight per cent in 2001 to 39 per cent this year.
That is a fivefold increase and it is on a rising trend. People have other concerns. Membership of the loyal orders is falling and parading causes less trouble each year.
Another sham fight? Not exactly. It’s all to do with nursing the base. The DUP is focused on minimising the damage it will sustain in next year’s general election. With Sinn Fein its more to do with esoteric concerns about the man with executive oversight of the cops is ‘Irish’, and that bond of trust between the corporate body of the Ard Fheis and the Ard Comhairle it has thus far been unable to redeem.
And it is probably also something to do with the very conservative nature of the beast born of the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements. The embarrassing truth is that it is majority and minority rule for anything that anyone wants to get down. The mutual veto creates a deterrent to either partner wanting to race ahead without the other…
And one that probably ensures the government by quango will continue long into the future. For a commission who’s first chair promised his job was to lead it into a situation where it was no longer needed, that in lieu of a determined and joint political leadership, the Parades Commission, like the poor, will always be with us. Whether we like it – or whether it is a good thing – or not.
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