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.
By Rev Brian Kennaway
Those who wish to protest, like those who parade, have a presumptive right to do so when they notify the Parades Commission. After due consideration, the Commission may place restrictions in terms of numbers or venue of the notified protest.
The recent history of protest is well known in Northern Ireland. Gerry Adams’s speech at a Sinn Féin conference in Athboy, County Meath, in November 1996, was confirmed in a letter to the Irish News on 30 April 2013.
“In 1996 Sinn Fein covertly set up ‘Newry Coalition Against Sectarian Parades’ of which I was chairman. This was part of its overall strategy which was replicated throughout the six counties to confront loyalist parades against the backdrop of the then Drumcree dispute.”
It is against this backdrop that those in the Protestant/Unionist community judge all protests against “loyalist” parades. They fail to understand that the policy of Sinn Fein has changed in the light of their ‘equality agenda’ and that they have no control over many of the current Residents Groups.
The Law of physics operates in many areas of society not least in protests. An action produces a reaction and we have witnessed recently the growth of ‘loyalist’ protests. There has been a tendency over the years for people and groups in the unionist/loyalist community to ‘ape’ the ‘other side’. These reactions have not helped to resolve the inherent issues.
Those, from whichever section of the community, who genuinely object to a particular parade, should show some tolerance. We are all confronted in our multicultural society with events which we find uncomfortable. If you are not comfortable with motor bike racing and live on the route of the North West 200, you are required to show some tolerance for a week in favour of those whose passion it is.
Protesting has become, in recent years, every bit as much a ritual and tradition as parading. In exercising the right to protest against that which one feels to be offensive care should be taken so as not to give an equal or greater offence by the manner in which the protest is undertaken.
Those protesting against parades should do so in a dignified way, and not inflame the situation by making wild allegations about the conduct of a particular parade. Sometimes it is the protesters who breach the determination.
They should also avoid the procreation of protests. When they do not get their own way by having protests at multiple venues, they give birth to another ‘group’ who then notify for the venues restricted by the Commission. This is to abuse the system.
These principles apply to all who wish to exercise their right to protest. However, ‘loyalist’ protesters, who lay claim to be protesting in order to maintain the Union, should recognise that these displays, which often lead to violence against the Crown Forces, do nothing to enhance the Union in the minds of the general public of the United Kingdom. Neither do they cement the Union.
To compromise over issues of protesting, or parading, is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. The right to protest which we enjoy is a right won at great cost. It should not be taken for granted neither should it be abused.