Nationalist MLAs call for direct dialogue

The SDLP's Alban Maginness
The SDLP's Alban Maginness

NATIONALIST politicians have said the Parades Commission’s restrictions on Saturday’s Covenant centenary are no substitute for direct talks between residents and those on parade.

Alban Maginness of the SDLP said he was “disappointed” at the ruling announced yesterday, which allows bands to play music passing St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street.

The North Belfast MLA said: “The decision to permit music, albeit hymns, as the parade passes St Patrick’s is a huge disappointment to residents as they had hoped for a single drum-beat as a conciliatory gesture to counteract the intimidating and triumphalist use of music in the area in the past.

“But there is a bigger issue here and that is the lack of direct engagement between Loyal Orders and residents – something that residents have repeatedly asked for and are continually open to.”

Mr Maginness added: “The residents will abide by the determination and stage a peaceful, dignified protest but it must be noted that we still have two full days to go before the parade and the residents’ door is still open to direct contact with the Loyal Orders and I for one would welcome that gesture being made.”

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has also called for direct talks, saying the “core issue of respect has not been dealt with”.

The North Belfast MLA was speaking following a meeting between Carrick Hill residents and the Parades Commission.

“The residents feel that the Parades Commission determination has rewarded the organisers and bands for their breaching enmasse of their previous ruling against the bands playing music on August 25.

“The residents still want dialogue and that dialogue should happen now. This is the first of several parades to mark centenaries that will add to the over 30 Loyal Order parades that the residents face every year.

“We also have the leaders of unionism saying that those talks between the residents and the Orange Order should take place. So let’s start those talks.

“While the residents are disappointed in the determination, it also states, ‘However, the commission is disappointed that there has not yet been direct contact between the parade organiser and Carrick Hill residents. The commission expects this to be rectified in the near future.’”

Mr Kelly added: “The residents will be holding a protest within the boundaries of the Parades Commission determination but the core issues are not resolved.

“What everyone wants is calm and, for our part, Sinn Fein will be there to support the residents. This issue can be resolved, but for that to happen face-to-face dialogue needs to take place between the parade organisers and the local residents.”

Sinn Fein South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey welcomed the commission’s decision to restrict a section of the parade returning past the Markets and Lower Ormeau areas.

“I have no doubt that local residents will welcome this determination with some relief. From the outset there was a strong feeling that this was a mischievous application which was deliberately intended to raise tensions in the city while the main Ulster Covenant centenary parade is taking place,” he said.