'Marching to the Beat of Different Traditions', by Bryan & Jarman
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Irish News, 9.9.96
Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan
The past two summers have been dominated
by the sound of angry voices and marching feet, by the rival claims
of consent and tradition. In short we have had the most divisive
marching seasons since the parades and demonstrations that sparked
the Troubles in 1968-69. As street protests and sectarian clashes
continue beyond the provocation of parades are there any indications
of hope that next year will not be as bad?
Drumcree has been widely cited as a
watershed but it may, in fact, prove to be a hollow victory for
the loyal orders. The events of the week between Drumcree and
the Twelfth united the nationalist community in a way thought
impossible only a few weeks earlier. It finally provoked an open
political intervention into the parades disputes by the British
government. And it has left some Orangemen concerned and unhappy
at the direction the organisation has taken.
Throughout last summer and until July
this year, Sir Patrick Mayhew had insisted that disputes over
parades were local issues and problems of public order. The decision
to set up an independent review into the policing, management,
decision making and legal framework of parades was a clear acknowledgement
that they were more than this. While the search for local agreements
should continue, the wider picture also needed to be addressed.
There have been reservations expressed
over the review body: nationalists feel that an international
figure should have been involved, unionists fear it will not be
sympathetic to their arguments. Nevertheless if the debate is
to move on it is important that as wide a range of groups and
individuals as possible put their arguments to the North review
body. To date none of the significant parties has indicated that
they will boycott it, and the Royal Black Institution have said
that they will make a submission, as have a number of the residents
groups. It is therefore unlikely that the other major players
will refuse to participate.
It will be particularly important that
interested groups give close consideration to the implications
of claiming rights because of 'tradition' or 'consent'. And the
review team will certainly not have an easy task accommodating
those claims. But the issue will not be resolved from the top
down, by an imposed solution, it will also depend on the willingness
of the opposing groups to engage in dialogue and to work with
whatever compromises are suggested. Is this likely?
There have been some promising signs
recently in Derry, in Bellaghy and in Newry. John Hume was an
important figure in bringing the two sides together in Derry.
Unlike in Portadown and in south Belfast, where the local MPs
were unwilling to address the concerns and interest of all their
constituents, the Derry MP was not personally involved in parading
or protesting, and was more concerned to encourage dialogue than
stand on principle.
But perhaps more significantly was the
decision of councillors in Newry to convene a meeting in an attempt
to begin dialogue between the residents group and the Blackmen.
Certain politicians have started to play a more constructive role
within their communities.
The meetings in Derry also required
a brave change in tactics for the Apprentice Boys in agreeing
to face to face talks with the Bogside Residents Group. Similarly
in Bellaghy, members of the local Black preceptory held a number
of meetings with the members of the residents group in order to
reach an accommodation over the parade route for Black Saturday.
Both of these moves need to be applauded and it is hoped that
the dialogue will continue. It may be that the nature of some
local relationships in rural areas provide opportunities for mediation
that do not exist in urban disputes.
These small moves towards resolution
need to be set against other developments which perhaps point
more towards an escalation of the problem. This summer has seen
protests or trouble at, or after, parades in many more places
than last year: Armagh, north Belfast, Cookstown, Crumlin, Keady,
Newry, Newtownbutler, Omagh, Strabane. The legacy is a general
increase in tension, mistrust, segregation and in the consumer
boycotts of Protestant shops and businesses.
The aim of any review of the culture
of parading has to be to confirm a general right to freedom of
political expression. Sinn Fein argued long for the right to parade
into Belfast city centre, while the decision to allow a nationalist
parade into the centre of Castlederg last year seems to have defused
protests this year. Nationalists in Lurgan are still demanding
equal access to the centre and in response have protested at loyalist
parades which they had previously tolerated.
The recent protests at loyalist parades
entering the centre of largely nationalist towns seems to counter
arguments that the commercial centres, if not residential areas,
should be regarded as neutral or shared spaces. Such protests
can only increase the fragmentation of the north into Protestant
and Catholic zones. One minor casualty of this segregation was
the decision of the Hibernians not to parade through Moy in August
and instead change the venue to Ballybofey in Donegal.
Parades have always had a wider impact
than parade organisers have liked to claim, and very often organisers
have less control over events than they believe. The disputes
this summer have generated two opposing responses, one route has
been to recognise the need for dialogue, the other, the desire
for further segregation of the two communities. It may be impossible
to sustain both paths for long.
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