Is this what a resolution of parading would look like?

The DUP’s well documented position of seeking to extract concessions to build ‘community protestant/unionist/loyalist confidence’ ahead of the devolution of policing and justice has failed to endear the party leadership to the broader community at large. The party has sought to bring the explosive issue of parading back centre stage in a calculated move it knows can only escalate tensions in key flashpoint districts (as the sectarian violence witnessed in Portadown last week illustrates, such tensions are rarely far from the surface.)

Of course, the DUP’s opposition to the Parades Commission emanates from a desire to see Loyal Order/ loyalist parades proceed unhindered wherever/ whenever they want in a dangerous but desperate attempt to win back the hard line loyalist electoral base that has abandoned the party for the Traditional Unionist Voice, some members of which have also apparently been seeking to endear themselves to hardline loyalism recently: a case of the DUP finding itself in competition whilst appealing to what Fionnuala O’Connor has described as the “very basic and unreconstructed instincts” of unionism.

But all of the rhetoric regarding the Parades Commission ignores the fact that it has always made- and continues to make- decisions in favour of loyalists, even when the motivation for parading through contentious areas is as blatantly sectarian as the Apprentice Boys/ UVF-aligned band parade through the Crumlin Road flashpoint this weekend.This weekend’s parade is worth discussing in more detail. Ahead of participating in the Apprentice Boys parade in Derry, the Ballysillan Apprentice Boys will join with a Shankill-based loyalist band which boasts its links to a UVF man who was killed by a British soldier minutes after he had killed a catholic man, Patrick McKenna, in Ardoyne.

The Apprentice Boys have claimed that they asked this particular band to march with them past the flashpoint area (yards from where Brian Robinson killed his victim 20 years ago, and past the homes of his close relatives) because of the band’s “musicality.”

On last week’s Radio Ulster Inside Politics programme, DUP MLA Peter Weir managed to somehow intimate that such parades through flashpoint areas would form a natural part of the DUP’s vision of a ‘shared future.’

Perhaps Peter’s right. But isn’t it about time nationalists considered an alternative strategy than ‘the moral high ground’ to change the context within which parading was discussed to secure a lasting resolution of the issue?

It has long been the case that each and every argument used by advocates of Loyal Order parading could be swiftly turned back on them were a nationalist/ republican body to seek to reciprocate by planning a similar parade in flashpoint/ loyalist districts.

Several years ago, dissident republican British agent? Paddy Murray wreaked havoc amongst political unionism by planning a republican parade in Ballymena.
Suddenly, the call for ‘civil and religious liberty’ was abandoned, with one local MLA declaring that such parades should not be permitted because Ballymena was a majority protestant town (he did not consider that, according to similar logic, that’d signal the end of loyalist parading in Derry, Newry and many other locations.) Now I’m not advocating a whole scale programme of retaliatory parades be planned for loyalist districts, but in specific areas it may be a useful point of discussion to highlight just how unionist sensitivities would immediately be aroused were the proverbial shoe to change feet.

The mantra of promoting dialogue, far from defusing the parading issue, has only served to keep the issue in the political melting pot. A more forthright stance which properly contextualises the loyalist desire to parade in nationalist areas as a sectarian desire, the flip side of which would be a republican parade through loyalist districts, would no doubt be seen as a hardening of the nationalist stance, but would that actually be a more helpful development at this juncture?

Of course, a long term resolution to parading will only be possible when the desire to develop a culture of respect replaces the desire to antagonise and offend. And amidst all of the hollow cries of respect for the Loyal Order’s traditional right to parade, it is worth remembering that even Unionist Ministers in the one-party state that was pre-Troubles Ulster recognised the sectarian motivation of many parades and tried to ban some in the late 1950s.

Perhaps the Apprentice Boys should offer to support the right of a republican parade to proceed from Ligoniel on down to Ardoyne in a gesture aimed at indicating that they genuinely seek to promote tolerance in a reciprocal manner. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but it appears to me that short of proving a willingness to reciprocate their desire to express their political loyalties in nationalist/ flashpoint districts, there will never be a satisfactory desire to parading other than restricting such parades to one’s own community.

As Fionnuala O’Connor remarked on Inside Politics last week, Parading “put poison into the system” in Ireland long before there was a Northern Ireland. It’ll require more than the abolition of a Commission for a Committee to remove that poison.