Today begins our mini-series on parading. It is our intention to host as many mature posts as possible over the coming weeks and to assist in whatever way we can to facilitate a greater understanding. To this end we will be featuring a series of articles from The Rev Brian Kennaway who has just finished a period on the Parades Commission. In the coming days we will hear from other prominent people involved in parades. We would ask you to engage in the debate in whatever way you feel comfortable.
By Rev Brian Kennaway
Having joined the Orange Institution in 1964 and served on the Parades Commission 2011-2013, the Rev. Brian Kennaway offers his analysis of the parading conflict. A number of groups need to step up to the mark.
Politics in Northern Ireland does not reflect any real understanding of what it means to be a political representative in a democratic society. When any politician is elected to represent a particular parliamentary constituency they are to represent the totality of that constituency, not a sectional interest within it.
If this principle of democracy were acted upon there may well be some hope of resolving local issues in areas of conflict. This is particularly true of North Belfast where as yet, local politicians have been either unwilling or unable to resolve local issues.
The conflict over parading and protesting is fundamentally a societal issue and therefore one for politicians to resolve. It is not a matter solely for the Parades Commission or indeed the Police, both of whom are only holding the ground until such times as political representatives can reflect the desire of wider society in Northern Ireland, and come to an agreement on parading and protesting. The Parades Commission only exists because of the failure of politicians to address the situation.
It may well be of some help, in the meantime, for local Politicians to acquaint themselves with the rules under which the Parades Commission operate. During my term on the Commission I have been embarrassed by the total lack of understanding of the rules by political representatives and party spokespersons.
Following the violent conflict of 12 July 2013 the Northern Ireland Assembly tabled a motion in which they made reference to, “the application by the three Ligoniel Lodges”. Parading is a civil right and the prescribed Form is a notification not an application. You notify to exercise a civil right you do not apply.
The Commission operates from the basis of the fundamental right to parade and protest. However, the right to parade or protest is a presumptive right, not an absolute right. This is acknowledged by the Grand Orange Lodge; “absolute freedom of assembly could lead to chaos and anarchy and there must be checks on it”. Senior Orange Grand Chaplin Canon Long affirmed: “The refusal to accept any restriction on Orange Order marches is not sustainable. . .” In 1998 the Presbyterian Church in Ireland passed a resolution; “The issue about parades and protests has to do with conflict between two groups of people holding to two sets of rights, neither one of which is absolute.”
Only a small percentage of the 3,000 parades in any given year associated with the “loyalist community”, have restrictions placed upon them. Most of these restrictions are music restrictions. The Parades Commission does not “ban” any parade as they have no legal right to do so.
If our politicians availed themselves of the opportunity to understand the work of the Parades Commission and did not use inflammatory language about its decisions, or seek to pander to their own narrow sectional interest, there may be a real possibility of resolving these societal issues. Politicians should not fear losing some of their more extreme supporters as public surveys on this issue have constantly revealed that they are out of touch with popular opinion.