Wednesday 17 July 2013

Time for a Change

This weekend has been another ugly episode in Northern Ireland's recent past. Trouble started at a protest called by the Orange Order, at the decision by the Parades Commission not to allow an Orangemen's march to take place in North Belfast on 12 July.

The protest turned to a riot, with some truly shocking scenes, as police, including reinforcements from GB, tried to enforce the ban. Dozens of police were injured. Nigel Dodds MLA was knocked unconscious. Since that day, there have been clashes between protesters and police every night and not just in the Woodvale Road area.

Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable of PSNI, described the Orange Order's call for a protest as reckless. Although they called for "peaceful protest", it seems extremely unlikely they would not have known violence was a highly likely outcome. The Parades Commission did not make their decision by tossing a coin in the air - they knew the risks and warned us of them.

As with the flags protests earlier in the year, the majority, the peace-loving people of Northern Ireland, watch with deep sadness as their country is torn apart and its image is destroyed yet again, with these pictures of violence being shown in the national and international media. How depressing and yet how seemingly inevitable it has become, for the twelfth July celebrations to descend into anarchy and destruction.

We need to take a step back from here. In 1998 all sides of the Northern Ireland political debate made some sacrifices in order to reach a better future. There were difficult decisions made, but there was an understanding that without these compromises, there would be no peace; the stability that this country so badly needed would never come. Now, we need to remember the lessons we learned in the run-up to the Good Friday agreement. There need to be sacrifices made by the Orange Order. Yes, the traditions are important. But if a peaceful twelfth means sacrificing one or two of the marching routes, this must be a price worth paying.

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