Brian Kennaway: “[The Grand Master’s speech] achieved one purpose only: it made Gerry Adams sound good”

brian kennawayBrian Kennaway isn’t someone from whom the Orange Order will appreciate advice. On his blog he’s issued a response to Grand Master Edward Stephenson’s statement at Saturday’s Twaddell Avenue rally:

… encourage Orange brethren and our supporters to demonstrate their displeasure at the current situation by holding peaceful and legal protests across Northern Ireland, at times and locations of their choosing, over the coming weeks. (Grand Master Edward Stephenson)

The former member of the Parades Commission asks:

Have the Grand Master and the senior officers of the Institution learned nothing but to repeat the mistakes of the past? What has “holding peaceful and legal protests” ever achieved? What guarantee can be given that they will be both ‘peaceful’ and ‘legal’?

He  argues that the 2013 Twelfth parade on the Woodvale Road “was neither ‘peaceful’ nor ‘legal’ given that it led to violence against the police and “many Orangemen before the courts”.

Brian Kennaway also queries the Grand Master’s allegation members of the Orange Order “have been denied their civil and religious liberties since 1998”.

I, Like many, would like to know precisely what ‘civil and religious liberty’ has been denied. The restriction of a public procession on a particular stretch of a road is NOT a denial of civil and religious liberty.

The Orange historian reaches into his archives and notes:

The refusal to accept any restriction on Orange Order marches is not sustainable, if in the wake of that resolution there is certain to be violent confrontation, injuries, destruction of property and maybe deaths. (Canon SE Long, Grand Lodge’s Senior Grand Chaplain)

The Grand Master Edward Stephenson posed the question …

Why can three lodges not complete their Twelfth parade, in a safe and dignified manner, up the main arterial route of the Crumlin Road to Ligoniel Orange hall?”

… and Brian Kennaway’s blog post enumerates a number of problems with the question:

There are a number of answers to that question.

In the first place a ‘dignified manner’ was not evidenced on the Twelfth 2013.

Secondly had the ‘Road Map’ laid out by the Parades Commission been followed in 2013 there would probably have been a return parade in 2014.

Thirdly Ligoniel Orange Hall does not exist – I am surprised that the Grand Master and senior officers do not realise that!

He concludes with a jibe that will not make his message any more palatable to the loyal orders: [Ed – that bridge was burnt years ago!]

Coming as it did on the same day Gerry Adams made his speech to the Ard Fheis it achieved one purpose only – It made Gerry Adams sound good!

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A balance of competing rights is at the heart of the stand-off at Twaddell Avenue.

For over 600 days, mediation, the Parades Commission and political dialogue has not succeeded. The Londonderry Bands Forum spoke at a fringe event at Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis and could have heard to the party’s chair Declan Kearney in the main hall say:

Moulds need broken, and initiatives taken.

Unambiguous unity of purpose between republicans and unionists, and significant shared gestures are more important than ever.

Meanwhile, Orange rhetoric on Saturday was of demonstrating displeasure through protests.

The Stormont House Agreement requires OFMDFM to work with the Office of Legislative Counsel to bring forward proposals on parading to the Executive by June 2015. Independent adjudication remains the “last resort”. Will that adjudication be judicial or at least judge-led?

The ultimate resolution to Twaddell is a court decision. While a ruling would upset at least one party, it would bring clarity where dialogue has failed to bring agreement. But the Orange Order might not like the answer … though neither might residents.

In the medium-long term, the DUP need Twaddell to resolve in order to prevent Orange votes in the area being cast for the PUP and TUV. If the smaller unionist parties continue not to stand in North Belfast at Westminster elections, the DUP are relatively safe. But a campaign of no votes would hurt Nigel Dodds’ majority.

Sinn Féin too need the tension around Twaddell to be released as the party’s lack of any levers to bring about a resolution weakens their political offer and plays into the hands of smaller republican parties and groups.

Protests can be powerful. Yet if the Orange Order calls for protests, how would they feel about residents groups demonstrating their displeasure through peaceful and legal protests. Would that help?

Gestures are important. Generous gestures could bring about transformation and healing. At this stage, protests are only likely to dig deeper trenches in North Belfast and make dialogue and marching – and politics – more difficult.

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.