THE PARADES COMMISSION in Northern Ireland has reacted to calls that it should intervene in the ongoing demonstrations about the restricted flying of the Union flag outside City Hall in Belfast.
Chairman Peter Osborne issued a statement last night to reiterate the Commission’s position, stating it had “no role” in the vast majority of protests. He noted that the method used by most of those aggrieved by the council decision was protest or demonstration, and not parades.
“Where people have decided to hold parades to highlight their concerns many have notified lawfully and we have taken decisions,” he said.
“One event, albeit with higher profile, has decided not to notify and has, therefore, chosen to act outside the law.
“The law is very clear. It is an offence to organise or participate in a parade that has not been notified through the appropriate form to the police. In upholding the law, the police have a number of options open to them, including stopping the parade and gathering evidence for prosecution.”
There has been much speculation about an imminent summer of difficulties in Northern Ireland as tensions run high over the flag issue but Osborne said people can still choose a peaceful marching season.
The chair believes a turbulent summer is not “inevitable”.
Despite the fact that we start from a challenging position, there are some positives from last year to build upon.
“We saw agreement between the Orange Order and residents in Crumlin after a dialogue process and the Orange Order in September stating there was no impediment to local Lodges entering dialogue with residents.”
Local politicians have also committed to seeking resolutions for sensitive parades in contentious areas such as Ardoyne, added Osborne.
The Commission intends to provide “time and space for these conversations to take place”.
“These public commitments created an expectation of progress and we hope that those who offered them will engage as we approach the summer.
Amidst the difficulties of last year, people came to understand that they had a responsibility to reduce rather than heighten tension, to parade and protest respectfully and to engage with others in a meaningful way.
Summer 2013 is the time to shift the focus from confrontation to dialogue and understanding, according to Osborne, who called on local leaders to play their part in ensuring an uneventful marching season.
“This summer we want people to make different choices, a choice of engagement, a choice of respect for others, a choice of law and order…if people make positive choices, perhaps there will be less need for the Commission to make decisions this summer.”
The Commission added that, along with the PSNI, it has a “very challenging” job in managing “deep-rooted” community relations issues.
Last week, a senior Orange Order member said the organisation may no longer give notice of parades given that loyalist flag protesters had forgone the process.
Rev Mervyn Gibson told BBC Northern Ireland’s The View that it was considering another tactic.