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Unionist walk-out was no surprise

By Staff Reporter

PLATFORM: By Seán Murray

The disengagement from the current talks process by political unionism came as no great surprise to either their political opponents or the local media.
They had led a focused campaign over the past couple of weeks aimed at pressurising the NIO, the Parades Commission and the PSNI in their efforts to elicit a determination which would facilitate a return ‘victory’ parade through Ardoyne on the 12th.
A pan-unionist/loyalist front was patched together incorporating the DUP, UUP, TUV, PUP and the West Belfast UDA as the vehicle to deliver the proverbial threats, involving the potential ‘collapse of the institutions,’ a ‘graduated response,’ and a ‘long term reaction.’ So we have a fresh set of buzz words to dissect and contemplate.
All of this was in response to a Parades Commission determination which re-routed a very small section of a rather long return parade away from a nationalist area, an area that has suffered dispro-portionally from the ravages of loyalist murder gangs during the conflict; an area which remains deeply scarred by the loyalist blockade of the local Holy Cross Primary School for 16 weeks in 2001.
This is but one of well over 3,000 parades by the loyal orders and loyalist band associations which will take place this year. The number contested from that total is but a mere handful.
So it’s difficult to identify a rationale for such a dogmatic and absolutist response, so reflective of a supremacist mindset, a mindset which featured just over a week ago (June 28) at the Whiterock Orange Order parade along the Springfield Road, when a freelance photographer was assaulted as he dared to walk across Orange ranks to get a better picture.
This scenario is all the more difficult to discern, given the DUP’s position on parades in the Hillsborough talks in 2009/10. Within the agreement they recognised the need for a rights-based approach to parades and protests and the actuality of competing rights. No rights engaged were absolute. They also recognised the right for everyone to be free from sectarian harassment.
Such a rights-based approach raised expectations of a practical breakthrough for such toxic issues which continue to undermine our political process. However, the DUP allowed the Orange Order to veto the agreement and the process collapsed.
So once again the negative voices within the Orange Order, the PUP and the West Belfast UDA are pulling the strings of political unionism, while ensuring that the political process is hostage to the fate of a narrow sectarian parading agenda. Ultimatums have been agreed and delivered as they attempt to bully and intimidate the key state agencies into reversing the 12th return determination.
Meanwhile, we await the outcome of deliberations by the hierarchy of the Orange Order. What they clearly need to factor into their discussions is how demographics, political power and allegiances have shifted over the past 45 years. Hopefully, current political reality will prevail. Supremacy is being replaced with equality, discrimination by mutual respect and parity of esteem. The state machine is no longer the preserve of the Orange Order or an instrument to service its supremacist agenda.
Seán Murray is part of the Sinn Féin talks team on parades, flags and the past.

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