North Belfast Parading – could the DUP/UUP find a positive way out of their current rabbit hole?

twelfth parade belfast 1As always in Northern Ireland, a row of dominoes have found themselves in a row and are now wobbling.

1. Getting a wide range of people to agree to be appointed to make a credible panel on North Belfast parading and related protests was always going to be an uphill struggle for the Secretary of State. Given the announcement in October with no names, and not a single name – not even a chair – being publicly mooted since them – the panel never really in existence to be collapsed. It practically cancelled itself.

2. With an election looming and parties jostling for position – like a poor man’s America’s Cup with boats looking for clear blue water and clean wind – the local unionist parties are very uneasy about joint action. And so the TUV/UKIP/PUP accused the DUP and UUP of negotiating about parading in Stormont House. And so a joint unionist issue has fractured into an intra-unionist argument. Probably not helped by some Belfast unionist councillors taking their turn as local Orangemen in the Twaddell caravan overnight rota.

3. Sinn Fein didn’t get anything meaningful about a number of issues (including the Irish Language Act) into the final Stormont House Agreement, so it’s reasonable that they’re calling out the lack of progress on parading … jumping the gun on the Secretary of State was at best mischievous, and at worst forcing her hand.

If it was difficult to appoint a panel on North Belfast parading, how easy will it be to find the eight willing non-party-political members of the fifteen strong Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Traditions that must be appointed by June 2015 and report back by the end of 2017? Some academics that you’d expect to be in the middle of the commission will surely be reluctant to participate in an eighteen month-long exercise in three dimensional chess.

With a lack of DUP/UUP politicians will to speak out ahead of tomorrow’s talks with the Orange Order, Alex Kane and I proffered our opinion on the matter on Evening Extra this evening.

My main conclusion was that the DUP and UUP need to find a way out of the deep and dark rabbit-hole that they’re heading down over Twaddell and the collapse of the panel, and instead take a more transformative route forward.

Canon Ian Ellis’ suggestion of a church-led parading forum is at least novel and has the merit of having not yet failed. If clerics independent of the loyal orders could be found – and I can think of a couple of bishops from two denominations, the immediate past Methodist President and a few Presbyterians with listening and mediation skills – it’s worth trying in the run up to July 2015.

There are undoubtedly votes to be lost over Twaddell, but there are also non-voters to be teased back into polling stations with a show of leadership. A way forward for the DUP and UUP that emphasises respect and tolerance, and contributes towards the spirit of the Executive policy on TBUC/Together: Building a United Community would be far better than the current certain unionist stalemate.

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