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OPEN FORUM is designed to stimulate vital debate concerning the future of our nation and people. We look beyond the sterile ideas of 'left' and 'right', capitalism and communism, unionism and republicanism. As we favour debate as a means to inciting thought, no subject is taboo. Some viewpoints may, therefore, differ from our own. This article from Paul Mellor in South Antrim looks at Orange parades.

Orange parades – a way out of the hole?

I write as someone who still enjoys attending the Orange Order's 12th of July parade in Belfast. The colours and the tunes still stir up some emotion buried away somewhere inside. However, as magnificent a spectacle as the parade is, I really feel the time has come for the Orange Order to face reality. I think they should make the necessary changes that could result in the Twelfth parade being promoted as a tourist event, in just the same way that the West Belfast and Ardoyne festivals, (despite being exclusively republican in outlook) can still be promoted by Belfast City Council as something worthy of bringing visitors into the city to attend.

To date, the Orange Order believes that on principle it cannot talk to the Parades Commission or Sinn Féin/IRA inspired ‘concerned residents groups’. But this logic just does not wash any more. Portadown Orangemen already have met the Parades Commission – albeit in the guise of unionist councillors! And, as the media (especially the Irish News) have already pointed out, the Orange Order seems happy with loyalist paramilitaries, but not with republican paramilitaries. Whilst I personally didn’t see any loyalist paramilitary colours on display at the Twelfth parade, it was clear from the flags of the "hangers on" at the side of the road that certain bands had sympathies for one or the other two main loyalist paramilitary groups. This (as it could be construed) ‘flirting with paramilitaries’ was further exposed when representatives of flute bands with differing paramilitary allegiances allegedly attacked each other at Edenderry and at Bradbury Place (on their way home from the field) with no regard for the safety of innocent bystanders.

Already the media have posed the question: ‘If it’s permissible for loyalist paramilitary sympathisers to be accommodated within the Orange Order's parade, isn’t it hypocritical of the Orange Order not to engage with the representatives of Sinn Fein inspired residents' groups?’ The Orange Order should not be seen to be turning a blind eye to one set of paramilitary sympathisers whilst righteously condemning a residents' group as a front for republican paramilitaries.

I totally condemn the republican rioters in North Belfast’s Ardoyne and their refusal to accept the Parades Commission decision. Nevertheless the disgraceful scenes (whereby 113 brave and innocent police officers were injured) could and should have been avoided. The Orange Order needs to lift its head from out of the sand and into dialogue with local residents.

Recent developments have shown that the Apprentice Boys of Derry and Royal Black Institution have met with residents' groups and showed them a bit of Christian respect. This in turn has led to this respect being reciprocated and various parades being allowed to proceed unhindered in Londonderry. This is a model that the Orange Order has to follow in Portadown, the Ormeau Road, Ardoyne and everywhere else. I would love to see all traditional parades proceeding - but with the tolerance of local residents in certain ‘flashpoint’ areas.

Quite frankly, the financial cost (and the potential human cost to the police and others) of forcing parades through areas such as Ardoyne is not worth the ‘hole in the sand’ the Orange Order has dug for itself over it's ‘principled’ opposition to talks with local residents. There ought to be no excuse for not showing politeness and courtesy to fellow human beings. The Orange should consult with the residents to ensure that they have no concerns about or opposition to parades. This should ensure that all parades pass off peacefully.

Consequently we will not need to drain the public purse and police resources. We’d also be able to end the exile of our own people on their ‘getaway from it all’ holidays and not deter potential and much needed visitors to this country. The Apprentice Boys have organised a week long Maiden City Festival in Londonderry to make their heritage and celebrate more accessible to others. What about an Orange district (say Ballynafeigh in South Belfast) doing the same? It would certainly take the wind out of Gerard Rice’s sails and serve to point the Orange Order in a new direction.



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