Setting the record straight
Tension reaches boiling point ahead of Monday’s Twelfth parade on Springfield Rd

With tension along the Springfield Road reaching boiling point ahead of this Monday’s Twelfth of July march by the Orange Order, a spokesperson for local residents last night insisted that there has not yet been any genuine or meaningful dialogue of any kind over the issue.

And Sean Paul O’Hare said that the conduct of the Parades Commission, the British Government and unionist politicians during the past three weeks has “polluted the atmosphere” and “badly damaged” cross-community initiatives in the area. The Andersonstown News has also learned that just over a month ago proposals were privately submitted nominating the South African lawyer, Brian Currin, as a mediator for direct dialogue, but the Orange Order ignored this approach.

Sean Paul called on local people to come out in numbers for the protest that will assemble prior to this Monday morning’s march. The prominent local community worker made his remarks during a lengthy interview which residents’ representatives hope will “set the record straight” in relation to the events of the last number of weeks.

“There has been a lot of misperception, and indeed misinformation, about what has happened in the last few weeks. This process of the last few weeks has been cynically used against us and because it is such a sensitive issue we feel we need to let people in our community know the details. One central fact is undeniable: the Orange Order has refused to engage in any process of direct discussion or meaningful dialogue in relation to this ongoing issue,” he said.

The Orange Order’s last march along the Springfield Road on Saturday June 26 was marked by widespread anger in the nationalist community after the Parades Commission reversed a previous determination to restrict the route
According to Sean Paul, the Parades Commission’s original decision to ban the Orange Order march along Springfield Road (announced one week earlier on Saturday, June 19) should never have been reversed.

“It is important to put all of this in context,” he said. “We have consistently been asking for a direct and meaningful process of genuine dialogue with the Orange Order to achieve a long-term resolution.

“Two years ago, a cross-community organisation facilitated a process of contact with individual unionists, loyalists and Orangemen.

“But although something positive came out of this in terms of the cross-community mobile phone network being enhanced, the big difficulty was that none of the participants had any mandate to address issues on behalf of the Orange Order.

“But we haven’t seen anyone in relation to this initiative since January 2003 – that’s over eighteen months ago.

“Then last year the Parades Commission granted the Orange Order march and it was characterised by widespread breaches of the guidelines, particularly in terms of paramilitary emblems, flags, music and so forth.

“During a presentation to the Parades Commission three weeks ago, we demonstrated conclusively that last year’s sectarian activity had occurred repeatedly and was in breach of Parades Commission guidelines.

“On the back of our presentation, the Commission then issued its determination on Saturday, June 19, banning the Orange Order from the Springfield Road.

“Given the context, the Parades Commission’s determination to ban the march came as a massive relief to local people. It was the only right and reasonable decision that could be made,” he said. “Between that Saturday and the following Wednesday, we called for calm and appealed, once again, for the Orange Order and unionist community to enter into meaningful dialogue for a long-term resolution.”

Meanwhile Ian Paisley led hard-line unionist reaction to the Parades Commission’s ban by announcing that he was taking the matter to Tony Blair.

And the UUP leader, David Trimble, also made an angry statement on the issue, while a number of other unionist political figures voiced their disgust at the Parades Commission ruling.

Sean Paul said that this public reaction was ongoing despite the fact that no behind-the-scenes communications of any kind had taken place. Then, on the evening of Wednesday (June 23), Sean Paul says he received a telephone call, out of the blue, from a prominent loyalist community worker.

“This loyalist, whom we had worked with on other cross-community issues, told me that there had been a new forum established and he asked could we meet. I said I would contact him once the residents’ representatives had met and on Thursday, I phoned him back. We agreed that two representatives from the residents would meet with two loyalist figures who also sit on the forum, around lunchtime.

“The objective was to discuss the wider potential of any formal dialogue.”
Sean Paul says that the loyalists agreed that they would ask the Orange Order for an assurance that members participating in any forum would be acting with the full authority of the institution, and that any process would involve an authorising officer from the Parades Commission.

“The loyalists arranged to meet us again on Thursday evening at 7.30pm and we put out a statement saying that we welcomed any initiative that would lead to meaningful dialogue with march organisers.

“We heard nothing throughout Thursday until one of the loyalist representatives told me on the phone at 7.15pm that they couldn’t secure any letter of authority from the Orange Order. We went ahead and met the two loyalists at 7.30pm in order to get an explanation, during the course of which they raised concerns about their capacity to control fellow loyalists on the day of the banned march.

“It is also important to note that throughout the week we kept in close contact with Sinn Féin and the SDLP over the issue.”

According to Sean Paul, those were the only two meetings held with any figures from the loyalist or unionist community.

“Everybody was disappointed that the potential for dialogue hadn’t been pursued, however even the loyalists accepted that it was now too late to embark on a meaningful process for that Saturday’s march.

“However, following a range of political meetings, including a high-powered Sinn Féin delegation, as well as contact with ourselves the next day (Friday), the Parades Commission then took the inexplicable decision to reverse the ban.

“We only heard of the decision through the media. It was a clear decision to punish residents even though we had fulfilled all the Parades Commission criteria.

“And in the event, that Saturday’s march involved many of the bands who had behaved so appallingly the previous year.”

Sean Paul is adamant that the contact with the two loyalist figures fell far short of the commencement of a process of meaningful dialogue. And he hit out at the Parades Commission for “rewarding the ‘might-is-right’ brigade, whilst punishing residents for complying with the rules”.

“The facts are clear. There has not been any genuine dialogue with anyone from the loyalist community to resolve this long-term issue.

“There is currently no potential for genuine dialogue given the outrageous actions of the Parades Commission in collapsing to loyalist threats.

“And the big question now is whether the Parades Commission will begin to accept a back-door conversation with one or two unauthorised members from a unionist community forum as some kind of meaningful dialogue. If that is the case across the North, then the prospects for long-term resolution of the marching issue are very bleak.

“In the meantime we have another Orange march being forced through the area on Monday morning and we are calling on the nationalist community to come out and protest,” said Sean Paul.

Journalist:: Jarlath Kearney

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