Open letter to the Rev Dr Roy Patton, Moderator, Presbyterian Church in Ireland
I WRITE as a Presbyterian, a member of the loyal orders and, most importantly, as a Christian, to express my concern at your recent public statement, issued jointly with Archbishop Alan Harper, in which you severely rebuke the loyal orders and specifically accuse the bands which took part in the Royal Black parade in Belfast of being sectarian because they played music as the passed St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church.
Whatever views we might take about the events outside that church on Saturday August 25, and I for one hope that they are not repeated, or that Donegall Street becomes yet another “contentious” arterial route, it is highly regrettable that you have chosen to use those events to launch such a scathing and unwarranted attack on your own community.
What is particularly saddening is that you that you appear, for whatever reason, to have failed to place what happened at the Black parade on that Saturday in the context of a series of significant developments over the summer, mostly related to the bizarre and cowardly decisions of the now totally discredited Parades Commission. As far as I am aware, and you can correct me if I am wrong, you did not speak out to commend loyal orders for their willingness to adhere to several totally discriminatory rulings by the Commission, and I think especially of the Twelfth of July afternoon when the Orange lodges returned to Ardoyne by bus to meet the Commission’s early deadline.
Nor do I recall you condemning the wanton violence instigated by republicans at Ardoyne that same evening, which included the attempted murder of police officers.
Nor do I recall you criticising the Parades Commission or asking it to account for its willingness to penalise and punish law-abiding Protestant organisations and to pander to wholly unaccountable and dubious “concerned residents groups”. I would also be interested to hear your views on the regular republican parades near Protestant churches in Dungiven.
You will no doubt be aware that those intolerant elements within the community, who are opposed to Protestants exercising their civil and religious liberties, regularly refer to loyal order parades as “sectarian”. It is highly regrettable therefore that, by your reference to sectarianism, you have greatly encouraged those intolerant elements to intensify their campaign to have loyal order parades controlled, re-routed and banned.
I fully accept that those of us who march have a duty to behave responsibly and in a dignified manner, and that is the case in the vast majority of our parades. But we are only human. We do have feelings, there is a limit to our patience and sometimes we feel compelled to express our legitimate frustrations. It seems to me that you have failed to take any of this into consideration and, by so doing, you have hurt a great many people. I would therefore exhort you to give the matter further prayerful reflection.
Councillor John Finlay