After leaving the British Army, Stephen Cooper served as an advisor to Robert McCartney Q.C., leader of the UK Unionist Party. He contributes regularly to the News Letter and is working on his latest book, which is an analysis of the ongoing appeasement of terrorism which he remains vehemently opposed to.
Whether or not the Parades Commission remains, or is replaced, by some other quasi organisation deemed palatable enough to Nationalists, is of secondary importance to how determinations are arrived at by whoever is eventually passed the poisoned chalice of adjudicating on the parades issue.
The fundamental flaw at present with the PC is that peaceful assembly is being punished and violence is being consistently rewarded. Last year in the manufactured flashpoint of Ardoyne, Orangemen accommodated a ruling which was difficult to abide by. Arriving at the arterial route home at four pm as required and walking silently in respectful silence should have been received by nationalist residents, the PC and the police as a gesture of goodwill and conciliatory intent. In stark contrast, hours later, nationalist residents (and visitors, bussed in especially to get offended) resorted to violence which regrettably culminated in attempted murder with automatic gunfire at police lines.
Any neutral armed with these facts would be forgiven to expect that the latter grouping would be punished in any future rulings, due to their unacceptable behaviour. Instead, the astounding determination set down earlier this year was met with widespread disbelief throughout the Unionist community, a decision which picked open the barely healed sores from the Union Flag protests and festered further in an atmosphere of resentment. This dangerous precedent plays into the hands of the growing number of resident groups, intent on using chaos and mayhem to use to their advantage, fully expectant that they will receive rulings in their favour due to what is euphemistically referred to as ‘the threat of community disorder.’ In NI, with the Frankenstein-like creation of the institutions set up under the auspices of the Belfast Agreement, the first seed of this realisation was sown.
The appeasement of republican terrorism was set in stone and rewarded that recurring and insatiable strategy for those wedded to violence. When faced with opposition, republicans’ can take solace in the fact that they can fall back on the threat of violence they are inextricably still linked to, in order to achieve their aims. The rights enshrined in European Law, that of Article 11 of the Convention (the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others), have to be recognised, adhered to, and utilised in legal challenges by the Unionist community in any breach ensuing by determinations by the Parades Commission.
A simple alternative would be a basic points system, whereby those engaged in peaceful assembly and association are rewarded for adhering to determinations or agreements, with incremental steps leading to partial or comprehensive fulfilment of numbers marching, music playing etc. It is absolutely imperative at the same juncture, that protesters who breach rulings receive fair and adequate punishment as a deterrent for violently opposing any future rulings. Organised groups for the first time should be forced to obey the law as set down and it is vital they are held responsible for violence or illegal activity in exactly the same way the Loyal Orders are, under the present arrangements. Any failure to obey the law from protestors, or marchers, should result in future decisions being presided upon and justified on the basis of past behaviour and punitive restrictions can be placed upon those who contravene any rulings.
If applied, this fair and reasonable template could pave the way for law and order to be re-introduced to this part of the UK, and offer some hope to an electorate who are so desperately wanting a solution to the perpetual cycle of appeasing violence.
As regards the return visit of Mr Richard Haass to NI in the coming weeks, several things need to be established from the very outset of his proposed consultations. Instead of allowing the NIO or indeed the British Government set the parameters of any such discussion, it is incumbent upon all of the loyal orders to agree a set number of principles which must be included in (and agreed before) any negotiations and provide the foundation for building any consensus.
The issue of ‘shared space’ is a familiar phrase to many and one which requires closer scrutiny. In the case of Portadown, nationalists refuse to recognise the public park as a shared space; this is a key example of the one-sided approach by the intolerant resident representatives, and one which should be highlighted to Mr Haass. In addition to this, following the recent parade commemorating bombers who blew themselves up on the way to the very same town of Castlederg it must be explained to Haass and his entourage how offensive any such hideous glorification of terrorism is to all citizens. Any shared space must not be allowed to hold parades celebrating/commemorating terrorists of any ilk.
Which leads to the pressing question of what exactly defines a ‘shared place?’ Any town or city centre must be a shared space, as no town or city ‘belongs’ to any individual group or community.
To establish this definition in the preliminary discussions is vital, as it would set down a legal precedent (and one which could be added to at a later date), as main arterial routes in and out of the centre must also surely be argued to be classified as ‘shared spaces.’
As far as the numerous resident groups go, Mr Haass should be made aware of the representatives’ backgrounds and where applicable, criminal records. In addition, the raison d’etre of these groups and the admission of Gerry Adams that they were set up deliberately to antagonise the PUL community should also be explained and insisted upon as being the accepted norm.
A reasonable request from the Order could be that no representatives holding criminal records for terrorism can be included in any proposed talks, and that representatives must adhere to the Mitchell principles of using only ‘peaceful and democratic means’ and must advocate that same message to their mobilised support, even in the event of a PC/equivalent body determination going against their wishes.
Failure to promote understanding and peaceful tolerance should be viewed in the context of encouraging violence and should be met with further restrictions on numbers of supporters/protesters which will effectively remove the increased chances of violence and thus, ensure the police can contain the protests more easily.
Parallels between 9/11 and the perpetrators may be a poignant and effective tool to utilise in discussions with an American diplomat, drawing on the rewarding of republicans in not just political deals, but also at present within the parading spectrum, as witnessed in the Ardoyne parade where the concessions went to the law breakers and not the law abiders.
The specific case of Garvaghy road should be central to the discussions as the compromise shown by Portadown Orangemen over the last twenty years has seen ten out of ten parades re-routed and banned, even though the one remaining is a commemorative march for the Great War, which follows a religious service for fallen Irishmen from both the Republic and from NI.
The recent Stormont funded study, carried out by RSM McClure Watters, stated that the loyal orders and bands contribute in excess of fifty million to NI’s economy, a figure which does not include many tourists’ logistical expenditure, nor associated food, drink and general commercial contributions of spectators and supporters.
A reasonable guesstimate would be somewhere in the region of double that, but unfortunately, the residents’ groups and their intolerant violence cost the PSNI millions in operations curtailing the wanton violence they constantly resort to, which diminishes the valuable amount considerably. The latest figures are in the region of ten million for policing, not to mention lost revenue and untold amounts in lost inward investments
It is absolutely key that the institutions enshrine in these negotiations what defines a ‘shared space.’ As I have pointed out above, city centres, town and village centres must all be included in that category, along with arterial routes to gain access to and from these areas.
The guiding principle of the parades commission and the Secretary of State that they give primary consideration to the prospect of ‘how the PSNI can police the parade’ must be challenged. It is vital that primacy is given to the law abiding community and not to protesters seeking to stir trouble and threaten violence to prevent parades from taking place in shared spaces.
It is important that the caveat is established that no terrorist parades can be allowed through any shared space, as it will prevent a repetition of the Castlederg coat trailing exercise. This will also prohibit any planned forthcoming 1916 rising commemorations in town centres and an added condition should be a ban on terrorist regalia or replica weaponry being displayed.
The make-up of residents’ groups can be looked at with the intention of exposing the real faces behind the masks, if you pardon the pun, and their intended decimation and eventual removal of our culture.
On the positive side, perhaps a case could be made for religious parades in commemoration of the war to be exempt from any restrictions, and in light of the shared space determination and definition; there could become an opportunity to hold a Remembrance Day parade in Portadown down the Garvaghy road, as it has been deemed a shared space.
In closing, I urge the Loyal Orders to set out their parameters and principles together and once established, stick to them and enter into discussions only when they are accepted by Haas and his delegation as any grounds for exploratory talks.
To enter into dialogue with no parameters or safeguards would be foolish and would leave the way open for the Haas delegation to follow their own agenda and apply pressure at the behest of a weak and unprincipled government, who have appeasement of republican terrorists still dictating their version of so called ‘progress.’
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