Robinson on parade (forestalling the Prodiban remix)
I hope Splinty will forgive me for somewhat (badly) plagiarising his style with the following article, but they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. So what are we to make of First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson’s demand on Tuesday that the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly must be tied to the abolition of the Parades Commission? Some elements to the whole thing are just surreal. Robinson moved the following motion:
That this House recognises that the right of free assembly and peaceful procession is an intrinsic human right and an important part of the British heritage; acknowledges the cultural significance of parading in Northern Ireland and its tourist potential; regrets the attempts by a minority to interfere with the right to parade peacefully; and accepts that it is a political imperative to resolve such matters, especially in a context where it is proposed to devolve policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland.
The debate itself is well worth a read, if just for the clear image it creates of the indignation honourable members were feeling and the evident sporadic outbreak of itchy bum syndrome on the part of Mark Durkhan, Jeffrey “O’Donnell” Donaldson, Sammy Wilson and co. It even has some classic remarks by Iris “Homos are going to hell” Robinson, where she manages to blame every problem since the Anglo Irish Agreement on the SDLP, poor sods.
All of this takes place in the context of the Ashdown Report – a review by Paddy Ashdown into the parades in Northern Ireland, the broad conclusions of which must be the worst kept secret in history. One of the key recommendations is the abolition of the seven member Parades Commission and the yoke it has placed on God Fearing Ulstermen by interfering with their right to riot, drink, burn the Pope and indulge in the occasional pogrom.
For those who aren’t followers of the circus that is NI politics, there are four main parties. The DUP and UUP (now UCUNF, with extra oomph) are the parties supporting the union with Great Britain, though not at the price of ever being seen to agree on anything. Sinn Fein, the Republicans, currently share power with the DUP. These three and the other nationalist party, the SDLP, all have positions in the Executive of the government.
Said government as yet has very limited powers when it comes to matters of justice and policing. The four major parties all want the power, one suspects because it shows that they are Getting Things Done. Damned, however, if they will co-operate to actually get it. The reaction of the SDLP has been amongst the most amusing, with their increasingly shrill proclamations that handing a Sinn Fein/DUP majority Assembly these powers is tantamount to Armageddon.
Quite how schizophrenic the SDLP is over the whole thing was clearly revealed by Alex Attwood in response to Robinson’s remarks. [Mr Robinson's] “obstruction of devolution of policing and justice with the abolition of the Parades Commission has been facilitated by Sinn Féin.” This view flatly contradicts the policy document the SDLP released in August this year, which on the contrary was worried the DUP weren’t being obstructive enough and wanted, “To warn against devolution of justice on DUP terms which will further damage the Good Friday Agreement.”
Sharing that particular bed with the SDLP are the extreme Unionists – the Traditional Unionist Voice (aka Prodiban, with apologies to Splinty for infringing his copyright). Vice Chair of the TUV, Keith Harbinson, quickly grabbed the nearest journalist:
“There is grave unease within the membership of the Loyal Orders at the prospect of policing and justice being devolved to an inclusive executive where those who continue to justify the murder of policemen and judges hold sway,” he said.
Making the whole show more surreal was the accusation, flung at SDLP leader Mark Durkhan on Tuesday evening that the SDLP, by opposing the right of said God Fearing Ulstermen to rape, pillage and loot wherever their loyal drums took them, was in favour of a segregated Northern Ireland, while it was the DUP which was in favour of a modern, multicultural inclusive society. One can only magine the collective spraying of weetabix across the room when the ‘civic unionists‘ of UCUNF read that the next morning.
The DUP are indeed an inclusive party after all, so long as you’re not homosexual, left-wing, or (god forbid) Catholic.
My thinking is that the DUP want to get rid of the Parades Commission to protect their right-flank. This was something they conspicuously failed to do when the St. Andrews Agreement was negotiated – and which is a continuing bug bear amongst the Orange Order and other grassroots organisations of Unionism, the sort of areas from which the Traditional Unionist Voice is leeching DUP members who are opposed to power-sharing with terrorists, scroungers, women and Sinn Fein. Robinson is keenly aware, perhaps, of the impending general election where several DUP Westminster seats could be under threat.
A preview of the Ashdown Report was released some months back, which pointed towards a replacement of the Parades Commission, to bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the EU, where local authorities decide the routes of parades and additional restrictions. It was precisely this that had Mark Durkhan practically bouncing up and down at Tuesday’s debate while Peter Robinson flatly obfuscated the perfectly fair point that giving this power to local authorities steps away from involving Residents Associations and local Orange lodges directly, with the Parades Commission adjudicating. Local politicians, one suspects, will be much more likely to take a more involved, less ‘impartial’ approach.
Now Gerry Adams has come out to say that linkage between devolution of justice powers and the abolition of the Parades Commission is not acceptable. Presumably this is Gerry protecting his left-flank from groupuscules such as Eirigi, that have attempted to grow roots within the residents associations – indeed reviled arch-nemesis of the Portadown Orangemen Brendan MacCionnaith has become their leader.
Yet where in all this mess is a solution? The Parades Commission is obviously not an ideal solution, as continued friction – felt keenly at the grassroots who have to endure the marches / endure opposition to the marches – has provoked violence that established political leaderships have struggled to keep a lid on. For all the commercialisation of “Orangefest”, it’s not really fooling anyone.
The only solution, so far as I can see, is continuing to allow the local groups to hammer out a deal, and in the absence of a deal, forbidding the contentious parade in question. That implies the continued existence of a parades commission, because Orangemen simply would not support allowing residents to decide for themselves who marches through their area – especially with the problem of Catholic ‘encroachment’ into formerly Protestant areas (what the rest of us refer to as demographic changes) still an ongoing phenomenon.
Similarly, communities who are opposed to parades in their area would refuse to abide by the decision of councils run by a majority of the other side. Forcing groups to co-operate from the ground up seems the best possible plan in a bad situation – and though it has a mottled history, in places like Derry it seems to work a bit. Couple this with a political approach (that is, a socialist approach) to link together Catholic and Protestant working class communities in their common interests (idealistic as that sounds, stranger things have happened) and I’d say we’re broadly on the right track.