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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 19 January 2022

Northern Ireland has a choice about 'what type of summer' it wants

The Parades Commission there is still time to ensure a peaceful summer.

An Orange Order parade last year.
An Orange Order parade last year.
Image: Peter Morrison/AP/Press Association Images

AFTER A TURBULENT winter, featuring weeks of volatile Union Flag protests, there is some concern that Northern Ireland’s traditional parades’ season could turn ugly.

However, the Parades Commission has said there is still time for residents to make positive choices and live through a peaceful summer.

“People have a choice,” chairman Peter Osborne insisted in his pre-summer statement.

Those directly involved can choose to engage in dialogue or they can choose not to talk to others. People can decide to raise tensions with unhelpful public comment or they can decide to help with calming and measured language.

The main parading season kicks off in six weeks time and politicians have been urged to lead by example.

“In their language, they can demonstrate political leadership signposting others towards accommodation,” explained Osborne. “Or instead they can comment in an inflammatory and negative way, thereby raising community tensions. They have choices to make.”

Earlier this year, First Minister Peter Robinson criticised Sinn Féin councillors for antagonising parts of the population by voting to reduce the number of days the Union flag flies outside Belfast City Hall. The vote sparked off weeks of violent protests. He described the move as “ill-considered and provocative”.

Osborne said that people will expect cooperation between parade organisers and residents in particularly-sensitive areas that have been prone to trouble in the past.

“Last autumn the Orange Order made it clear that there was no impediment to individual lodges talking to local residents,” he said. “The Commission will facilitate that dialogue when it can, but we need those involved to have the courage to take the steps necessary to deliver on the expectation created.”

Where agreement is not reached locally, the Parades Commission steps in to make decisions about parades and protests.

“If people make the right choices, Northern Ireland can have a positive summer. If they don’t, society is entitled to ask why, because everyone must endure the consequences,” concluded Osborne.

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