Northern Ireland has had a very ominous year. While we cannot ignore the scenes of protest and violence, the repeated questioning and undermining of the Parades Commission and the PSNI by senior politicians and government ministers has been deeply unnerving.
This cavalier approach has raised tensions, undermined the rule of law and has placed the PSNI, which we entrust to uphold the law, in extremely tough situations.
Contentious parades are not going to go away overnight and the need for an independent body to rule on them is not going to go away either.
However, politicians’ attitudes and respect for any adjudicating body simply have to change.
NI21 believes that the legislative authority for the process of mediating and adjudicating on contentious parades and protests should be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Devolving the legislation to constitute an independent body and the criteria it will use to rule on contentious parades will result in an institution that largely acts and looks like the Parades Commission. However, devolution will force local government ministers and politicians to take responsibility for it; it will make it more difficult for them to undermine its rulings, the rule of law and the PSNI. This is fundamental to finding a more lasting solution and stabilising our democracy.
Taking such a mature approach would reduce tensions, legitimise a new independent parading body and hopefully reduce the tendency for people to violently protest.
NI21 advocates the Ministerial Pledge of Office being changed to directly ensure ministers support the rulings of any devolved independent parading body.
In the long run, with greater dialogue and better relationships, we will hopefully not need such a body to rule on contentious parades, but in the short term it is incumbent on politicians involved in the Haass talks to become accountable.
Northern Ireland’s economy cannot afford another year like 2013.
Politicians involved in the Haass talks have to live up to the standards expected of parties in democratic government. They must begin to manage people’s expectations and begin to act in the common good.