CAIN Web Service - Parades and Marches
Joint Appeal from Belfast Newspapers
Text: Martin Melaugh ... Research: Fionnuala
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The following editorial was published by both of the Belfast morning newspapers, the Irish News and the Newsletter on the 12 June 1997.
THE summer of 1996 was a disaster for all the people of Northern Ireland. The widespread violence and disruption must not happen again.
We believe that this view is shared by the vast majority of people. In that spirit, the News Letter and the Irish News make a historic joint appeal today to all those in a position of influence to ensure the events of last year are not repeated.
In addition, we appeal to all our readers to add their voice to this call by pledging their commitment to peace this summer by ringing 0891 44 77 01.
We believe it is the solemn duty of us all to work for an accommodation between the conflicting rights of marchers, and residents in areas where parades are taking place.
We recognise the tensions that exist between the two communities in Portadown. The Orange Order is fearful of losing its right to continue traditional parades; the Garvaghy Road residents feel a strong sense of isolation and devalued citizenship.
Leaders in the respective areas must address these concerns and try to appeal to the other's position.
There are hopeful signs.
In this past week, the Orange Order and Garvaghy Road residents have written to one another to express their views on the annual parade to and from Drumcree Parish Church in Portadown. Both these letters represent a positive gesture, and we believe they provide the basis for dialogue designed to reach a solution of the conflict between them.
We appeal to both sides to continue dialogue by whatever means possible.
The medium is less important than the message. What needs to happen is for each side to establish trust in the other. The letters are an important first step. Modern communications should make it easier rather than more difficult to take the next step.
While we believe that direct communication is the best way of exploring rival positions, we have to accept the reality that this is difficult for some at this juncture.
It is also the case that the chance of achieving enough confidence for a resolution of the Drumcree problem before this year's parade will be difficult given the timescale and the background of tension in the wider community.
We fully acknowledge the right of the Orange Order and the Garvaghy residents to their respective positions. The rights to march and to protest are an essential element in any democratic society.
Without prejudice to their respective positions, we would urge both sides to agree an interim two-year breathing space which allowed for one parade to go down Garvaghy Road after the service at Drumcree, and the other to be re-routed.
The residents would be free to make dignified, lawful protest about the march; and the Orange Order would be free to make a similar dignified and lawful protest about the re-routing. The hope would be that by year three, trust would have been established for a new and lasting accord which recognised the rights of both sides. With a two-year accommodation in place, the atmosphere in which talks could take place would be transformed.
This would require no loss of face and no loss of principle by either side: both sides retain their dignity and nobody loses. It is not a settlement, but it would create the breathing space both sides need, leaving the way clear for confidence-building and discussions, leading to a lasting settlement.
An agreement of this nature would have the potential to transform the climate in Northern Ireland, and those who were responsible for it would earn the respect of the vast majority of people - nationalist and unionist.
The initiative could be copper--fastened by the secretary of state, who would guarantee to use all the resources at her disposal to ensure the deal was honoured. And it could be endorsed by an equal number of prominent people in the two traditions who would act as guarantors.
We welcome the residents' suggestion that "both sides publicly apologise for any hurt, offence or injustice caused by the conflict of interest in relation to marches". We also applaud the Orange Order's hope that the vast majority of the people of Portadown will work together in a new spirit of peace and tolerance".
A two-year commitment now would allow both sides to put the past firmly behind them and to begin the new millennium with a clean sheet.
Last year's events in Portadown sent negative images around the world. There is now an opportunity for the people of Portadown, both nationalist and unionist, to show themselves in a positive light and achieve a breakthrough which offers the prospect of lasting reconciliation.
If it is not possible for both sides to agree to the two-year plan - something which will be seen as reasonable by the vast majority of people on both sides - it is essential that the events of last summer are not repeated.
Whatever decision is made by the RUC and the secretary of state, there will be those who oppose it. They have a perfect right to do so, and to test that decision through debate, the courts, political activity and peaceful protest.
If these avenues are to be,pursued, there must be one basic rule. Violence or the threat of violence is unacceptable, and must not be used.
In view of the experience of last year, community leaders, on both sides, must avoid tactics which could be hijacked by extreme elements.
Confrontation with the police is not a viable option, the blockades are not a viable option, massed rallies which can be infiltrated by extremists are not a viable option.
There has been much talk of the search for common ground in Northern Ireland. There is common ground. People want to live in peace, to be secure in the knowledge that their children are safe, to be able to earn a decent living for themselves and their families, and to have a quality of life.
We do not get these things for free, we must an work for them.
Many, not least those who were killed or injured or who suffered in any way as a result of last summerís violence, were denied the right to live in peace. That must not happen again this year.