Eamonn McCann notes that previous visions of the Belfast Agreement (or, as he terms it, ‘the pact’) as a precondition for future change, have, after six years of a joint DUP-Sinn Fein led coalition retreated to the cold lines of the agreement itself:
Observers who see the recent outbursts of liveliness as threatening to the agreement should ponder the possibility that the agreement doesn’t challenge but rather consolidates the attitudes underlying the same fractiousness. If the agreement is the best that can be done, we must look forward to more or less permanent sectarian division, with an ever-present possibility of abrasion at the interfaces. This, not escalated paramilitary activity, is now the main threat to stability in NI.
The pact should be seen not as the last word but as a model to be discussed as one element in debate on a better way forward.
Meanwhile Sinn Fein’s Tyrone Volunteer Day goes from strength to strength porting itself from a single venue parade in East Tyrone to the religiously and politically mixed town of Castlederg out west…
Alex Kane notes of the argument that all parades are okay so long as they stay in their ‘own’ areas…
… that sits uneasily with Declan Kearney’s comments in this newspaper last month that “there is a moral imperative to ensure future generations grow up in a better place than we did”.
How can they grow up in a better place if republicans continue to promote the logic that parades are okay as long as they stay in their “own'” areas?
Because, once you accept that logic, once you embrace the principle that Northern Ireland should be divided into us-and-them areas for parades and commemorations, then you close the door to a shared future and build a wall, upon which you paint: “This is our territory.”
How, then, do you build the shared schools, the shared housing and the shared sports and social facilities? Well, you don’t.
You simply kid yourself that the space between the us-and-them barriers is a “neutral” space open to all: when it would, in fact, be no more than somewhere to walk your dog, or wait for public transport.
…that’s the ultimate danger with this type of parade. It is a propaganda exercise, pure and simple. It’s not about the celebration of culture, or values: it’s about the celebration of terror and violence.
And, in supporting it and in sending along a very senior member of their leadership team, Sinn Fein (and particularly Martin McGuinness) is sending out an unambiguous message to everyone within unionism: when it comes to the terror campaign, we remain unashamed and unapologetic.
In other words, the right to sustain their own areas and the right to commemorate bombers and snipers will always trump the need to build a shared society, either in Northern Ireland, or in any future united Ireland.
…unionists/loyalists needn’t think I’m letting them off the hook on this issue, either. Whether they like it or not, most non-unionists (and quite a few unionists as well, as it happens) are uncomfortable with what seems to them to be the triumphalism and inherent bigotry of loyalist parades. They believe that unionists also celebrate violence and violent men.
So there’s the real dilemma for the Parades Commission, its possible replacement and Richard Haass. Parades today are propaganda exercises: one-sided exhibitionism to remind the “other” side of their existence and their refusal to go away.
Encouraging people to walk “where you’re wanted” merely encourages Balkanisation. Trying to re-route, stop, or compromise usually leads to stand-offs and riots.
The Parades Commission can never get it right and please both sides. No third party/organisation can hold the ring for the opposing sides.
So, the toughest question of all is whether both sides would be willing to rethink their whole parading/commemoration strategy in exchange for laying the framework for a genuine shared political/cultural/social future with each other?
I don’t know the answer to that question, because I don’t know how many people actually want a shared future involving the other side.
But one thing I do know: parades and commemorations are the moving interfaces of politics here; regular reminders of how far we have yet to go before we meet for a solution rather than remain parted by continuing stalemate.
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