The Politics of Parading Spotlight

The Politics of Parading

Hard-hitting investigations. Ciaran Tracey explores the politics of parading following a summer of tension over Loyal Order marches.

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Saturday's parade to celebrate the centenary of the Ulster Covenant. A


march like no other, packed with pageantry. And police. 190 bands


and 20,000 people. It's around a third to 50% bigger than the 12th.


There were fears of trouble. But a collective sigh of relief when it


passed off without a major incident. At what cost, though? Tonight we


reveal the bill for this year's marching season. �6 million is far


too much money to spend on this area. At the heart of another tense


summer was a dispute over the behaviour of the Young Conway


Volunteers outside St Patrick's Catholic church in Belfast. We hear


exclusively from the band. Our band did nothing wrong. To the Catholic


community, it was an insult. disrespect is intended by any of


the marchers. People say they do not want to make this a contentious


route. It was a summer in which the Parades Commission, the body set up


to deal with contentious marches, left both sides angry. With less


than a year to go before the Commission has to be replaced, is


Northern Ireland any closer to finally sorting out the problem of


parades? The Parades Commission is not the way to solve this. In fact


there may not be a way to solve it. Thousands of people, united in


Belfast in the spirit of a century old pledge. They were celebrating


the Ulster Covenant. Pledging themselves to Britain as the men


and women of Ulster. And pledging to stay British. For Ulster's


Unionists, it's a birthright. years after all the troubles, the


IRA campaigns and internal tussles and differences between London and


Dublin, the fact they are still in the United Kingdom, they want to


celebrate that loudly and proudly. It was a big day for John Aughey.


Parading is in his blood. This one was as big as it gets. I am looking


forward to celebrating my heritage. It is probably bigger than Twelfth


of July in terms of the size of the parade. This is the hundredth


anniversary, let's hope there is a 100 anniversary. It's not just an


idea, or a folk memory for John. His family have a deep-rooted


connection with the Covenant. They have lived it. My two grandfathers


both signed the Covenant, but they both signed it for the same reason,


to reaffirm our position within the United Kingdom. I consider myself


to be following in the family tradition. My son, my daughter and


grandson are in the parade today. Let's hope the tradition continues.


The Covenant was about defiance. Defiance of a Bill that would


release Ireland from british control. Ulster's unionists, led by


Lord Carson, drew up a pledge rejecting it in the strongest terms.


What it means has not changed from grandfather to grandson. There are


serious and many pressures put on the people of Northern Ireland to


weaken that opinion. It is important for us to show the rest


of the world that we are just as determined now. But not everyone


was celebrating. The residents of Carrick Hill protested in front of


St Patrick's Church in north Belfast, as John and several


hundred other Orangemen passed by. While all the bands abided by the


Commission ruling to play hymns, some played more loudly than others.


So a more exuberant but the process seemed to be more respectful than


before. Sometimes it can be interpreted by members of the


community as insulting. The majority went well. Some loyalist


protesters outside a Catholic church in East Belfast vented their


anger at parade restrictions by encouraging bands to play louder


and sing banned songs. And when a bandsman was photographed urinating


near the church, the Orange Order apologised. The behaviour, what he


had done, anyway in public it should not happen, but particularly


at a place of worship, it was wrong. While the day passed without


serious incident, the failure to secure agreements in the weeks


leading up to it revealed deep divisions between both sides.


Saturday's Covenant parade was a relatively quiet end to a marching


season that lasted a month longer than in previous years. But the


parading problems thrown up by the summer remain unresolved. At the


heart of the controversy is the future of the Parades Commission.


We've looked back over the disputes to piece together why there were


problems and to examine the Parades Commission's determinations.


Rioting in Ardoyne in north Belfast on the Twelfth, a day that tested


the police to their limits. It wasn't supposed to be like this.


And it would end in a serious attack. The Orange Order's march


had had restrictions placed on it by the Parades Commission. In an


attempt to prevent confrontation, they said the Orange marchers had


to return past nationalist Ardoyne much earlier than normal. By 4


o'clock. Much to the irritation of the loyalist and unionist community.


It caused great distress in the way the unions family was. A


reprehensible decision -- Unionist family. It literally forced the


loyal orders to return by 4pm. same day, Republicans also wanted


to march in Ardoyne. Two separate protests were planned. The


organiser of one says their aim was clear, to challenge the Parades


Commission. We were challenging them. We say who has primacy?


effort to accommodate all sides, the parades commission allowed the


two republican protests AND a loyalist one - to go ahead, as well


as the Orange parade. It led to a Of republicans and loyalists cheek


by jowl in the middle of the road. The police were caught in the


middle. How close did it come to the wire to getting out of control?


There was a period of five full ten minutes undoubtedly and it was


incredibly difficult. -- I had to make sure nobody got hurt. I after


a day of tension and violence, the commission was criticised. Except


it was a challenging position for the police on the day and whatever


decisions were taken, there would have been problematic issues.


rioting worsened as the night went on and things turned more sinister


as a dissident republican gunman shot at police, firing 17 rounds.


The day after the 12th, a video emerged showing a loyalist marching


band stopping to play what many regard the sectarian tune outside


St Patrick's church. There was fury within the nationalist community.


The band responsible has not talked publicly about its actions, until


now. One of the band members spoke exclusively to us. I do not believe


the band did anything wrong on the day. What we did on Twelfth of July,


we did throughout the day, on the entirety of the route. It is just


what we do. The band in no way, as I see it, did anything wrong on the


day. He was one of those who stopped outside St Patrick's. He


feels the actions of the band have been exaggerated. There is nowhere


else in the world he would see the media taking the story of a band


playing outside a church. Over the top of 17 shots being fired at


police officers. It was not the act of playing that caused such offence,


it was the choice of music. tune we played was Sloop John B. We


cannot be held responsible for what people perceived to be. My honest


opinion if people think it was sectarian, surely they have a


mindset that is sectarian. Many say it is sectarian because it also


goes by the name of the Famine Song, a standard of Glasgow Rangers


supporters. We played tunes set out before we walk. In our eyes, it was


a genuine song. And if people perceived it as the Famine Song, if


somebody... If somebody felt hat, from what the band did, the band,


by all means, will apologise and has apologised. We did not set out


that day to cause anybody upset. It was a day of exuberance. We do what


we do every Twelfth of July. Act is little comfort to the priest


at St Patrick's, who was abroad when he heard about their actions.


I sent a text message and e-mail to say -- I received, it said to check


the website and I was quite shocked by it. My response was, what is


going on? And why are we being focused? Why are we being singled


out for this particular behaviour? Father Sheehan quickly found out


how upset parishioners were. They were horrified and insulted. They


felt belittled. They felt that nothing had changed in decades.


That day felt they were second- class citizens. And if we were


insulted by it, tough. She shortly after the video emerged, the band


apologised for any offence and said that members did not realise they


were outside a church. Some people would say they did not deliberately


do that and I am trying to be open to that. To the Catholic community,


it was an insult. Many others would say it was not intended as an


insult, but to stand outside the church and to do that, it is an


The YCV band's actions could not be ignored. They'd broken the Parades


Commission's code of conduct. And the body had to be seen to act.


Once more, how it acted made it the target of trenchant criticism. It


decided to place restrictions on an entire set of bands marching past


St Patrick's, on a Royal Black Preceptory Parade in late August.


They were only to play a single drumbeat - and the YCV band weren't


to walk past at all. Mervyn Gibson, chaplain to the Royal Black


Preceptory and an Orange Order spokesman, claims the Parades


Commission was acting in a vengeful way. You just cannot come out of


the blue, ban an organisation, a whole parade, from playing music at


a particular time. For no particular reason other than spite.


The marching fraternity was incensed, and decided it had had


enough. I think it was a case that people were asked would they


support a breaking of a determination if that was the case.


And I believe there was support for that decision. Unionist politicians


were prepared to lend them support. On the eve of the march an open


letter was written Owen Paterson, then Secretary of State, calling


the Parades Commission's decision "monstrous". I think it was


unhelpful. I think whenever I saw that letter produced, publicised,


the morning of the parade, I mean it was quite obvious that it was


not going to have a helpful effect. It was signed by a many unionist


politicians - including First Minister Peter Robinson, who was


abroad on holiday. When you've got someone who is supposed to be


leading an administration signing a letter which in practise encouraged


people to breach a determination which the Parades Commission had


established. I mean that is the opposite of political leadership,


that is running in behind the extremists. On the day of the


parade, bands openly flouted the Parades Commission's ruling -


playing loudly and proudly as they passed the Church. Father Sheehan


could only look on. The next thing I heard was the bands striking up


but becoming louder. And I was shocked because I couldn't believe


it and I thought maybe it was just a one off thing. Then the next band


struck up and the third band and the fourth and at that stage i


thought this is just crazy. And I couldn't understand why it was


happening. I had never ever witnessed anything of such anger


and eh would appear to be venom and sectarian hatred as I did then. I


was shocked by it, I was horrified by it. I was still shaking after it.


I know that. It's up to the police to uphold Parades Commission


determinations. But the police chose not to block the bands and


instead stood back, shouting warnings. You have an option you


can enforce at the time or but enforcement at the time stopping


that parade will lead seven thousand people to go where? I am


absolutely certain that the judgement that we exercised on the


25th was a right judgement in terms of both communities in North


Belfast. The Parades Commission had been openly defied. Peter Osborne


denies that it had been fatally undermined. The vast majority of


determinations are adhered to. Where they are not adhered to,


first of all the police gather evidence Secondly it's the sort of


issue we would take into account for future determinations if


necessary. More than 30 bands broke the Parades Commission


determination. They were criticised by some Protestant clergy, but DUP


minister Nelson McCausland sympathised with them. There is an


anger, there is a resentment within the unionist community and


therefore something such as this was almost inevitable. To be able


to say look, this is completely wrong, or you have to support the


law - that's what the role of a senior politician should be. Not


coming along and saying, look the Parades Commission, it shouldn't be


there, we shouldn't talk to them and we deplore their determinations.


I mean that just gives an open door to people who are going to riot.


What happened on the 25th was genuinely a protest against the


parade commission's decision. I wouldn't see it as law breaking.


was law breaking. You say it was law breaking, I am saying it was a


protest, something, a line in the sand had to be drew, it had to be


done. Determinations can be protested against, but when they're


flouted, the law is broken. there is a bad law there that


doesn't show equality and is enacted against the institution, I


think there will be peaceful protests against that until it is


changed. For the police, the legacy of these events was mounting


tension among loyalists, convinced they were being persecuted. It was


almost like a pressure cooker effect within the wider community


in. One week on from the bands' act of defiance, a republican parade


made its way past Clifton Street - without any restrictions. It was to


spark sustained rioting involving hundreds of waiting Loyalists. Once


again, the police were in the middle. That was three days of some


of the most intense rioting we have seen in Northern Ireland over the


course of a number of years to the most intense barrage of missiles


that led to over sixty of them being injured over the course of


that three days It led Will Kerr to publicly criticise the leadership


of politicians. But what was frustrating for the police service


at the beginning of September was the continuant political focus on


blaming the other side there's no such thing in a mature civic


society in 2012 as righteous anger that justifies the intensity and


the level of violence that we saw between the 2nd and 4th of


September in Carlise Circus. Unionist politicians, who'd been


happy to rail against the Parades Commission before the violence,


were then criticised for not coming out to condemn it. The DUP's Nigel


Dodds says that's grossly unfair. The DUP have a clear record of


condemning violence and we condemn violence absolutely, and Peter


Robinson and I visited the Lower Shankill and spoke to local


residents. This attempt to turn it round that somehow Unionist


politicians were slow to condemn violence that is absolute nonsense.


After three days of disorder, the First Minister publicly condemned


the rioting I think very consistently I've condemned anyone


who's involved in violence and breaking the law, that's a role


that you would expect any first minister, indeed it's consistently


been my position. I think there are undoubtedly very high tensions in


north Belfast and indeed other My role is to ensure that we don't


add to those difficulties by things that are said and done. Perhaps if


everyone took as step back and said a lot less, we might be in a much


better position to resolve these issues. But they will only be


resolved on the basis of mutual respect. But some commentators


believe unionist politicians were too slow with their condemnation.


think it was hugely damaging because it looked like they were


running away. It looked like they recognised they had got it wrong.


It was one of the biggest, I think, own goals that Unionism and Orange


have scored in the past two or three years. With the landmark


Covenant Centenary Parade just weeks away, the loyal orders tried


to build bridges. All eyes, including the Parades Commission,


were on them. So there was an apology for offences caused to the


church. And the Orange Order offered to meet the St Patrick's


parishioners. The Orange Order was hoping the talks it had offered


might lead to a deal to ease tensions in the area. With a summer


of trouble behind them, but one of their biggest events ahead, they


wanted to avoid restrictions from the Parades Commission. Father


Sheehan and a handful of parishioners agreed to meet with


them. I had never been involved in anything like this in my life. I am


not a negotiator, I am not trained in anything like that. I just


jumped in with two feet. And it was always my firm hope that if orange


and residents met that they would have found a common ground which


would have been clearly evident to both. The meeting with parishioners


was seen as a big development. But there was no meeting with residents


of the area. The Orange Order had for years blocked talks with


residents groups, but revealed that as far back as March it had dropped


that ban. We decided that we just couldn't sit back and allow the


parades commission to continue eh what they were doing. So we said


what we do need to do is to move things forward ourselves as an


organisation? But the talks didn't work - they ground to a halt over


the issue of whether the Order would talk to residents of nearby


Carrick Hill. I could not understand why that wouldn't happen.


And my hope was that that would happen. The Orange Order however


considered it a success. I think we have seen that we can engage and do


engage. And even engage at every parade of many people. This time we


actually engaged at a place where there had been contention and at a


place where there had been hurt caused. And I believe we engaged in


a way that was genuine. In a way that lead to mutual understanding,


and I believe lead to a resolution of that particular issue. There had


been engagement, but there hadn't been a solution. Once again it was


back to the Parades Commission to make a decision. The Parades


Commission said that only hymns were to be played outside churches,


and played with respect. That was flouted by some. Leaders from all


sides though have praised the relative calm of the Covenant


celebration. The question is after a summer of violence and protest


around parades - at what cost was this Centenary success bought?


Policing disorder arising from this summer's parading has cost the PSNI


considerably. Exact figures will be presented to the Policing Board on


Thursday. But we can reveal that the cost is already up on last year,


without taking into account the loyalist rioting in September or


Saturday's parade. The total for this year's marching season will be


over �6.5 million. That's up around �800,000 from last year. �6 million


is �6 million, which a police service can't spend on things that


matter more to local communities for the real, rest of the year. �6


million is far too much money to spend on this area. Will Kerr has a


strong view about how those costs should be met in the future.


would say quite legitimately I think that people should take


responsibility and share a burden of the costs whenever the platform


of an event leads to associated disorder we would welcome a debate


about where that cost would lie. Politicians here also have to


grapple with their failure, so far, to sort out the issue of parading.


It all comes down to the question of what will replace the Parades


Commission. Alistair Graham was on the very first Parades Commission


in 1998. It was his commission that first dealt with the annual problem


of Drumcree. I thought it would be an issue for a long period of time.


I didn't think the Parades Commission would still be in


existence, taking week to week, month to month decisions about


parades in Northern Ireland. I have genuinely been staggered by the


degree and the progress that has been made in political decision


making in Northern Ireland. But unfortunately we haven't made the


same progress in dealing with parades. Back in 2010, the DUP and


Sinn Fein thought they had it cracked. They came up with


proposals that would have created a new panel to rule on parades. But


the Orange Order voted not to support it, effectively killing the


plan off. There was elements within the institution that didn't want


that. Some I believe for political reasons, some for genuine reasons


that they were against them. I was involved in producing them, so yes,


I think they should have adopted them. But it is a democratic


organisation and they rejected them, albeit by a very small minority,


but that is democracy. That rejection called into question the


DUP's ability to deliver on parading. What the DUP should have


done was went ahead with it because the Orange order were represented


in all of that. They showed a weakness of leadership by not


seeing that through It also meant that the current Parades


Commission's life had to be extended until next year. Nigel


Dodds says there's still time to find a replacement. It's important


that people buy into and have confidence in a regime they have to


operate under and that applies to any walk of life so far as


government is concerned. No, I would've preferred that we had


moved forward on the basis of proposals that are out there but


we're not precious or signed up that it has to be these 2010


proposals, this is set in concrete, far from it, we want to move this


forward. Under the 2010 proposals, oversight of parading would have


been devolved to the office of first and deputy first ministers.


Alistair Graham says that's a bad Well I would be strongly against


that. I think to put this toxic issue of parades into the heart of


the political process would be a high risk strategy indeed.


solution many seek is for residents and marchers to come to agreements


on parading. The Orange Order meeting with Church parishioners


this summer shows that they think there's mileage in the idea, if


only to bypass the Commission. It's also led to increasing calls for


the Order to meet with Sinn Fein. have no doubt that they see the


orange will see the way ahead is to talk to Sinn Fein, is to talk to


residents groups. And then get more marches and more permission to


march as a result of that than refusing to speak. I think it will


eventually happen. Some people in the institution will never want it


to happen which is fair enough and i respect that view. I think it


will happen, but it won't happen when people are being enforced into


it or bullied in, or people think they are politically point scoring.


To do that the Orange Order will have to bring its members and


supporters with it. That will be a difficult sell to people like


bandsman Paul Shaw. If they're seen to be meeting republicans and


meeting Sinn Fein then it will tear the Order apart. I mean they will


lose all support from within itself, they are going against the grain.


If they have a policy and a principle set out, then they should


stand by it. If communities can't agree, most accept that decisions


from above are needed - basically what we have at present. So in many


ways we're at stalemate. The Parades Commission is certainly


unloved, but no-one yet has a better solution. We understand and


have always understood somebody has to arbitrate when there is dispute


around parades. We would prefer that not to reach that stage but


there is some parades will reach that stage. All we want is a body


in there that will deal with us all fairly. That is certainly not the


case with this Parades Commission. And hasn't been in the past.


Whether the critical decisions around parading remain with the


Commission or move to Stormont, the process will remain deeply tainted


by suspicion. It is a total disgrace the way we are being boxed


up and put in to cold storage. I mean it would suit everybody all


right for the Protestant people just to disappear. Nationalists


also face a decade of events that may likely be as contentious as the


Covenant celebrations. Yet they, too, have their problems, and will


be looking over their shoulder at hard-liners emboldened through this


summer's protest at parades. reality is I don't think there is a


solution to the parading commission, where you continue to have a turf


war, and there will always be a turf war in parts of Northern


Ireland. And nobody, whether it's the Assembly, whether it's the


Parades Commission, whether it's another entirely invented


organisation, I don't think anyone can resolve the bottom problem,


which is that one side really doesn't like the other. That mutual


animosity will always find an outlet in problem parades. A


century after the Ulster Convenant, Northern Ireland has worked through


After a summer of tension over Loyal Order marches, Ciaran Tracey explores the politics of parading.

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