THE chair of the Parades Commission, believes the Orange Order as well as political and civic leaders have a duty to resolve the issue of disputed parades.
In a platform piece published in today’s News Letter Peter Osborne, said he believed that many members of the Orange Order disagreed with their policy on non-engagement with the Parades Commission.
He also highlighted the forthcoming centenaries of the Somme and the Ulster Covenant which will be comemmorated in 2012.
When I took up the position of Chairman of the Parades Commission at the beginning of this year I was under no misapprehension as to the scale of the task facing myself and my colleagues. Unfortunately parading continues to be one of the last outstanding issues to be resolved as we all work through our peace and political process. Some of my main goals at the start of 2011 were: firstly that progress in managing and resolving parades disputes was maintained, and secondly that more people were talking to each other in December than had been the case in January.
People may think of the parades ‘season’ as reaching its peak in high summer but our work is spread over the 12 months of the year. Near the start of our first year we held a series of open meetings all over Northern Ireland which brought Commissioners into direct contact with hundreds of people. During the close season towards the end of the year we have all been on the road, visiting areas where contention remains and encouraging, facilitating or in some cases supporting by our presence, dialogue between parade participants and others.
We also undertook in December – in partnership with the Community Relations Council – a series of conversations, each one examining a specific area such as centenaries, interface work, and our own Parades Commission code of conduct.
Whether dialogue takes place in front of a room with hundreds of delegates, or a community hall with half a dozen people, we view it all as equally valid and equally valuable. That commitment to talking to people will continue to be a trademark of this Commission over the coming months and years.
At no time will this be more important than next year, 2012, which starts a decade of 100-year commemorations that will be an opportunity to recognise our different past but will also highlight our shared present and may help further build toward a shared future. While there is a danger that the next decade could pose a threat to our respect for each other, it is a greater opportunity for us to recognise further what is important to the different communities on this part of the island. That is why we need these commemorations to be non-contentious, respectful, and as inclusive as possible. I am sure those volunteers from the Ulster and Irish Divisions who fought and died side-by-side at the Somme and Messines in 1916 and 1917 would agree with that.
How we commemorate in the decade from 2012 will reflect more about the society we live in now than it will reflect on the events we are remembering.
That is the challenge for all leaders of this society from grass-roots to high office, but especially for parade and event organisers.
The Orange Order last week stated that it was working on proposals to find a new way forward for parades. That is to be welcomed as new thinking and a new approach will help move us away from old arguments and an old way of dealing with each other.
However the Order still won’t formally engage with both the Parades Commission, a body established, it should be noted, by the UK Parliament, and with some others.
I believe most people in the Order know this is the wrong approach with members of the loyal orders actively engaging with us on a weekly basis. If the Order were to stop, reflect and shift their thinking toward formal engagement with us and others, I believe it would be welcomed positively by almost everyone in this community and any negative criticism would be over in an instant.
That really would be a new approach; a shift in the paradigm that might help move everyone and everything on. But it requires leadership to do and leadership from others to support those who do it.
I believe there is a duty on all local leaders from the political world and civic society to face up to the challenge of dealing with parades where disputes remain, and that includes the Orange Order. The Parades Commission is ready for the challenge, and aware of the importance of getting this issue right.
After our first year, meeting and talking to literally hundreds and thousands of people across the community, at interface areas, in rural and urban areas, I believe people want to move on from disputes around parades. People want closure – it is up to us all to try to bring this about but especially those local leaders who can make such a difference for our shared future.