Parades issues

Mick shouldn’t beat himself up too much about his unfulfilled predictions. Deadlocks by their very nature burst open when they don’t stick. Remember all the drama when deadlock turned to breakthrough or vice versa so many times – over powersharing in 1974, voluntary coalition in 1975, the promised land of the GFA 1998, that dreadful day in October 2003 when the First Assembly finally imploded before our eyes at Hillsborough, when a hapless and muddy General de Chastelain couldn’t give enough details of IRA decommissioning to satisfy a LOL mascot goat. I haven’t a notion what the sticking points are but parades is put forward as a prime issue in unionist “community confidence”. Bizarre you might think, but there it is. Clearly the DUP must be seen not to negotiate under duress. But if after all, the loathed Parades Commission is scrapped and something like Paddy Ashdown’s interim report replaces it , a very robust and carefully balanced system of local democracy is proposed to take its place. The big question is, can the parties grasp such a stinging nettle? Sinn Fein I presume fear that unionist controlled councils would try to nod through contentious parades and they must not lose out to fringe republicans like Brendan MacCionnaith The balance that is proposed in the Ashdown plan needs to be buttressed by the local Human Rights Bill Sinn Fein and the SDLP are demanding but unionists resist as a back door route to nationalist gains. But as Peter Robinson himself once pointed out, an HR Bill could equally benefit unionists where competing rights are involved. So a trade -off may be possible here. Not that any deal along these lines would be a breeze. The Ashdown plan adopts the very consociational principle of banging heads together that has produced Assembly deadlock, and that’s a worry. It assumes both the DUP and Sinn Fein are capable of taking joint responsibility for parades decisions at council and FMDFM level. While that’s entirely appropriate in theory, it’s a huge ask, given the level of mutual distrust. The leading parties will be fearful that they could be publicly humiliated by outflanking movements on either side. But when I recall Gerry Kelly’s broken arm at Ardoyne, maybe it’s doable.

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