The Parades Commission is once again directly in the eye of a political storm over its determinations on Orange parades with overwhelming evidence that the unelected quango has now lost the confidence and trust of the overwhelming majority of unionists.
The commission may enjoy full legal powers and the backing of Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott, the Alliance Justice Minister David Ford and, as confirmed in yesterday’s Stormont Assembly debate on the Twelfth impasse, also by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
But without the approval of the majority unionist community, the commission’s authority in making binding determinations on contentious parades is totally skewed and, to all intents, compromised and holed below the water.
The powers allocated to the Parades Commission come under the working remit of the Secretary of State’s Northern Ireland Office and the problem for the Westminster Government and, indeed, a major worry for unionists is what is put in its place should the commission be forced to stand down.
Before the emergence of the Parades Commission in 1998, all determinations on marches in Northern Ireland were taken by the police (at the time the RUC), but, almost certainly, the present PSNI command structure would run a mile from inheriting what is effectively a bed of nails for contested decision-making and law-enforcement.
In 2010, there were moves to replace the Parades Commission with a body that would come under the auspices of the First and Deputy First Minister’s Office at Stormont, but the Orange Order baulked at the idea, fearing that future determinations on its parades would require the official imprimatur of someone like Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.
Nothing has changed in this attitude which creates a big dilemma for DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and unionist politicians if they were to re-visit a risky scenario at variance with a significant section of supporters.