Portadown’s elastic road

Sammy Wilson MP
Sammy Wilson MP

We have known for years that republicans are masters at stretching the truth but now it seems they have taken to stretching roads.

The Garvaghy Road has now been extended by declaration of Portadown’s intolerant republicans.

Victoria Terrace, where the Orangemen had been granted the right to parade, has suddenly become the new Garvaghy Road and, after much squealing by the professional republican complainers, aided and abetted by their SDLP hangers on, that permission has been disgracefully rescinded.

What is the next step – today Victoria Terrace, tomorrow Royal Avenue – as republicans expand the territory from which they wish to eradicate Orange marches?

Meanwhile, despite representation from the leaders of all the unionist parties, the Parades Commission at the time of writing seems set to surrender to the threats of republican violence at Ardoyne and denied the Orange lodges from Ballysillan the right to walk the Crumlin Road on their way home from the Twelfth demonstration.

Clearly they are swayed by the blatant and open threat of violence by the republican protestors’ spokesman who boldly declared: “We told the Parades Commission that in the past we have shown our willingness and ability to use radical means to stop parades taking place and we would do it again if permission was granted for the parade to take place on the Twelfth of July”.

It now appears that the decisions of the Parades Commission are based on the law of the jungle rather than the rule of law. That is a bad message to send out and unfortunately will be a lesson learnt by many of the darker elements in the loyalist community.

There is one thing that must be made clear. Regardless of the blatant bias and craven cowardice of the Parades Commission, no one from the unionist community however angry, frustrated and hurt they may be, should either threaten or use violence to demonstrate their hostility to these rulings from this discredited body.

The end result is bad international publicity which only hinders our plans to attract jobs and foreign investment, destruction of property in our own communities, many already deprived, and young people ending up in jail and carrying criminal records which will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Two things have emerged from the decisions of the Parades Commission and the behaviour of republicans this week. The first is that unionists will never get a sympathetic decision from this body dominated by individuals inherently hostile to Orangemen and so weak that they put out the white flag at the first whiff of fumes from republican petrol bombs.

In an age where the perpetual demand is for transparency from public bodies, they refuse to give any reasons for their decisions. Of course this is understandable. Could they really say, “this scary man came in and threatened ‘radical means to stop parades’ and we know that from the past this means masses of people throwing petrol bombs, trying to kill police officers by throwing concrete blocks from shop roofs and gunmen firing on police lines, so we thought it was easier to punish peaceful Orangemen”. It’s easy to see why the Parades Commission acts in such a secretive way, they make the Free Masons look like a public debating society!

Of course it didn’t need to be like this. When negotiating the devolution of policing and justice the DUP agreed a replacement to the Parades Commission which would have resulted in transparent decisions, a requirement to take into consideration previous behaviour of marchers and protestors, recognition of attempts to resolve issues locally, in fact all the things that the Orange Order had said they wanted any parades dispute body to consider.

Sadly as a result of internal Orange wrangling, and bad politically motivated advice from the UUP and the TUV, this alternative was rejected and will be far harder to get back on the table especially since belligerent republicans see that the current arrangement rewards their intransigence.

Secondly the response of Sinn Fein to parades and the issues around dealing with the past, calls into question whether any talks with them on these issues can ever result in an acceptable outcome.

How can they be serious about dealing with the past when their senior members whose terrorist activities are well documented, deny even being in the IRA?

How can they expect anyone to believe that they want to bring closure to victims when they strike secret deals to ensure their murdering friends are given letters of immunity from prosecution and they threaten to withdraw support from the police when Sinn Fein members are arrested for questioning about past crimes? How do they think they can convince those hurt by IRA terrorism that they care when they organise marches to commemorate IRA murderers through the very towns where they committed their heinous acts, as they did in Castlederg last year.

Their record on parades is no better whether in Portadown, north Belfast or Dungiven where they opposed an Orange parade without flags, music, or bands while at the same time organising aggressive republican marches. For these reasons I believe that party leader talks will go nowhere and only raise unrealistic expectations and give the chattering classes yet another failure to witter on about.

There is no magic formula to deal with the hurt of the past, we fool ourselves if we think there is. We will live with its legacy for years to come and perhaps the best we can do is to try and ease the pain with whatever support can be afforded and hope that time will help heal the wounds as well.

Equally there is no easy solution to parades which are contentious, however as has been seen in many areas local discussions and flexibility can deal with issues which seem to be intractable.

Rather than relying on high pressure political talks and government appointed quangos for instant solutions, as a society we need to use common sense, goodwill and be realistic that the legacy of the 40 years of madness is not going to be easily eradicated.