Monday 27 August 2012

Alliance sit on a fence somewhere off Donegall Street

The Alliance Party Councillor John Blair merely calling for calm on "all sides" in relation to parades and then the disturbance outside St. Patrick's Church on Donegall Street. He goes on to say:

"Following the controversy over the twelfth of July parade past the same area, we must now get agreement from all sides as to what happens in the future. We need engagement and negotiation; nobody wants to see a repeat of this violence again.
"There is a lot of tension over this issue, so I would urge everybody to take a mature approach to sort out future parades here; there is no need for any sort of inflammatory statement from any side."

Now lets get it clear what happened. In the run up to this.

The Young Conway Volunteers seen on Saturday
On July 12 one band The Young Conway Volunteers deliberately played the "Famine Song" outside St. Patrick's. Now there is no mistaking that this was  what they intended and not a Beach Boys tribute.

As a result the Parades Commission ruled that the band should not form part of the parade on Saturday. However, there were one of almost all the bands who played as the parade passed by St. Patrick's on Saturday.

There was a letter in the Newsletter on Saturday from all the Belfast DUP representatives in Westminster or Stormont and 4 of the 5 UUP representatives as well as Councillors calling for the Parades Commission to be scraped. Alex Kane wrote in today's Newsletter how the Unionists themselves have prolonged  the existence of the Parades Commission basically because they failed to reach agreement on what should be done about the hot potato of parades on their own.

I saw a tweet that Belfast's Grand Master actually tore up the determination of the Parade's Commission before the parade set off on Saturday. If so the bands were then responding to something that was done by the man who had responsibility for the parade making it a premeditated breach of those instructions. Does this make the Grand Master guilty of causing a breach of the peace? Does this leave him with the ultimate responsibility for heightening the tensions on Saturday that led to 7 PSNI officers being injured? Under the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 it is a crime to incite other people to disobey a ruling of the Parades Commission*.So will the Grand Master face arrest?

I notice that Alex Kane feels the need to include Pride in his list of 'provocation' from the parade and followers. Yet Pride always leave static stewards who are experienced at the flashpoints, who have been known to tell people they will be thrown off the parade for provoking the protestors. Yet in the TV footage from Saturday members of the RBI with steward sleeves on are seen geeing up the bands to play on, leaving it to the PSNI with a megaphone to try and ask the bands to stop playing.

Shockingly the area's MP condemns the acts of those who had assembled to ask for respect for St. Patrick's, and not those who breached a public order ruling for a single drum beat to be played as they passed by. That is until you realise that the MP is Nigel Dodds a member of the Loyal Orders.

Now I know I wasn't actually on Donegall Street, I was actually playing bowls at the other end of the Shankhill Road at Woodvale Park**, so I do not know exactly what went on that led to the disturbance as the last band passed. But the TV footage does show that bands played as they went past, marchers hurled insults and abuse at Catholics who largely stood by the road asking for respect outside St. Patrick's. This was a breach of the Parades Commission determination. This was a start of the tension that John Blair calls for calm on all sides, yet nowhere is there any condemnation for that obvious breach of the determination. It was obvious after the twelfth that there would be more observers there than on that day. The playing of The Sash and other songs outside St. Patrick's and the disrespect caught on camera was merely fueling the tension.

So where is the Alliance Party's outright condemnation for such an obvious breach of a legally binding determination? It is not inflammatory to call a spade a spade and get to specifics. Why haven't the Alliance condemned the bands for failing to adhere to the Parades Commissions determination? Why haven't they condemned everyone who was involved in the violence? It is all very well to be known as the party of sitting on the fence, but sometimes you need to come off the fence to make the tough calls that make the view from the fence better and safer all around.

Update It may come three days after the incident but Naomi Long the Alliance Party's sole MP has finally made a statement that points out that the determination of the Parades Commission is law saying:

"There is a requirement for people on all sides to avoid inflaming the situation, to take responsibility for those that are brought onto the streets, to avoid violence, and to fully abide by the determinations of the Parades Commission, even when there may be disagreement or anger at them."

* Thanks to a contact for digging up this fact for me.
** And getting there and back was a trek first due to numerous feeder parades and on the way back due to the police sealing off any chance of joining the West Link at Clifton Street, just above Donegall Street.

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