SINCE the formation of the Parades Commission the basic argument appears to be – if anyone claims to be personally offended or if they claim to be offended on behalf of their community, by a parade or an action, then the parade participants are automatically deemed to be in the wrong.
At no stage is any cognisance taken of intention or motivation – objection is sufficient.
So if we take the actions of the Young Conway Volunteers on the Twelfth, the accepted view is a loyalist band deliberately and unilaterally stopped outside a Catholic church, marched in a circle and intentionally played a tune which was offensive.
Therefore such behaviour warrants punishment. Alternatively these actions could be described as – on the Twelfth of July, when the main Belfast parade halted, Young Conway Volunteers were stopped outside a Catholic church, they marched in a circle – as many other bands did – and played a tune which was inappropriate. The former scenario warrants not only sanction by the Parades Commission but also by the law, whereas the later warrants a chastisement and a warning about future behaviour.
Likewise looking at intention, the same discussion can be applied to the parade in Dungiven by the Kevin Lynch Memorial Band. Either it was an intentional, deliberate act of provocation to the members of the Church of Ireland or it was an unfortunate consequence of location where sensitivity should be shown.
Considering intention and motivation, then we must consider the events on Donegall Street on the Last Saturday of August. Clearly there was an intention, a deliberate intention, to defy the Parades Commission ruling, but was it actually an act of “sectarian hatred” as described by the church leaders?
Clearly bands and parades have passed St Patrick’s Church on numerous occasions and rarely if ever have scenes witnessed in August been the norm, so something changed. The bands haven’t changed, the church hasn’t changed, so the dynamic has changed and this is where I diverge from the church leaders.
The actions and the intentions of some bands were clearly in defiance of the Parades Commissions ruling, in other words a protest against the Parades Commission, not the Catholic church. In other words the Parades Commission ruling created a more serious and contentious parade, it does not solve or defuse anything.
For me, the refusal of the Parades Commission to consider motivation and intention led to an over-reaction and this over-reaction exacerbated the issue as opposed to calming it.
Ultimately parading makes a significant and can make a positive contribution to our community life regardless of who parades or for what cause.
But if we are to move forward, a new dynamic to decision-making must be found to deal with our difficulties.
Our current reactive, offence in the eye of the beholder approach has only made our problems worse. Finding a new dynamic in which intention and motive play a part is essential, otherwise the current cycle of parade – opposition – violence will continue.
Mark Neale is a former ministerial adviser to David Trimble and a member of the Orange Order. He is writing in a personal capacity.