THE Chairman of the Parades Commission, Mr Peter Osbourne, has said the handling of the contentious parade in Crumlin on the Twelfth this year could serve as “an example to us all.”
“There has been much comment about this year’s Twelfth parades in Crumlin village – much of it inaccurate, some of it correct, and some so irresponsible that it contributed to increased tensions,” said Mr Osbourne. “Despite that, events in Crumlin proved that with sufficient motivation and leadership, it is possible to demonstrate respect and tolerance, and have a peaceful parade in a sensitive location. We should all celebrate that achievement.
“Before the demonstration in Crumlin, some argued that the Commission’s decision to facilitate the full parade through the village in the morning and just the local District in the evening was ‘dreadful’, and would result in another Drumcree-style stand-off.
“Some residents felt that the decision proved that the Commission was too “pro-parading”, and that allowing the full parade in the morning would lead to a major community relations breakdown and the potential for violence.
“At the other end of the spectrum, some speaking on behalf of those parading felt that the restrictions were so severe that it was evidence of the Commission’s ‘bias’ against parades. As they say, it’s not possible to please all of the people all of the time.”
Mr Osbourne continued: “The Commission believes – and vindicated by events on the day - that its decision demonstrated a reasoned and fair approach which provided the basis for a way forward for the parade, the village and, potentially, other sensitive areas.
“The most heartening aspect of the Crumlin parade was the genuine civic leadership delivered by those involved at grassroots level. Discussions involving the police, Orange Order and residents went on into the night, leading to an acceptance that the Commission’s decision was a win-win for all and an agreement about flags and banners in the village. It demonstrated to me, that in this regard, those in a leadership role locally were ahead of some of their elected representatives.
“I was at Crumlin on the Twelfth,” he continued. “The parade went well, the demonstration at the Field went well and the return parade was a positive outcome which everyone should be pleased with. The little tension I did witness involved a handful of young people following the parade who had clearly had too much to drink, but that is not an issue confined solely to Crumlin.
“Residents and the Orange Order should be applauded for engaging with each other and ensuring that the Twelfth in Crumlin was celebrated with mutual respect and tolerance. The Parades Commission determination – balanced and fair as it was – helped facilitate that outcome. In contrast, those who ratcheted up tension in the days before with intemperate comments contributed nothing to what was a peaceful day. Given the positive example set by Crumlin, are there lessons which could be applied to other areas such as Ardoyne? I believe there are four principles we can all learn from.
“First, local parading and residents representatives demonstrated courage and genuine civic leadership, putting into practical effect their motivation to manage and resolve the issues surrounding a large Orange parade through a sensitive area.
“Secondly, the Parade Commission’s determination – like other determinations elsewhere – was fair and balanced, providing a framework for local agreement.
“Third, those commenting in public need to recognise that what they say and the manner in which they say it can be unhelpful, increase tensions and impede local agreement. There is also a need for locally elected representatives to engage with the process at an early stage rather than leave their contribution to the discussion to the days running up to a parade.
“Finally, Crumlin has demonstrated that Northern Ireland can take a mature approach to cultural diversity. It is possible to enjoy traditional parades and commemorations while balancing the rights of others from different backgrounds to enjoy their family life. When consideration and tolerance are shown, the entire community benefits,” he added.
“Parading and community leaders in Crumlin should be commended for their foresight and moderation. They have raised the bar for the rest of society and demonstrated that people of goodwill can solve apparently insurmountable problems and balance competing rights,” concluded Mr Osbourne.