Today marks The Twelfth, the yearly protestant celebration in Northern Ireland, marking the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 and victory of Protestant king William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Historically, the day has often been marked by scenes of violence such as those which saw police officers injured last year.
However, as Orangemen prepare to parade across Northern Ireland, it is the politicians who are today coming under fire for politicising what is such a sensitive day and failing to abide by their commitments to a “shared future”.
In an editorial which will make for sober reading for all parties in Stormont, the Belfast Telegraph has argued that attempts by the Parades Commission to seek compromises to take the heat out of the parades are being hampered by “intemperate and ill-considered remarks of our political leaders.”
The editorial continues:
“Peter Robinson, Nigel Dodds, Gerry Kelly and Mitchel McLaughlin have all criticised the genuine attempts of the commission to give a balanced adjudication on two contentious marches – at Glenavy in Co Antrim and at Ardoyne in north Belfast.
“It is strange that the DUP and Sinn Fein are at pains throughout the year to talk up their efforts to devise cross-community initiatives, to encourage integrated education and, generally, to show how well they get on together.
“Yet when it comes to the Twelfth, all common sense seems to go out the window. They must realise that their remarks – however they are meant – will be interpreted by wilder elements in both communities as a green light for violence.
“The trouble-makers will argue that even senior politicians think the commission’s adjudications are unfair and therefore should be challenged by any means possible.
“The question must be asked – why do the politicians feel they need to make such remarks? What gallery are they playing to and will they feel any responsibility if indeed violence ensues?
“The wisest course of action for the politicians would be to keep their own counsel, say nothing and work behind the scenes to defuse tensions. Their job is to lead society here into a brighter, more inclusive, more tolerant future where everyone’s culture is acknowledged and respected.
“They will not succeed if they continue to ratchet up tension with poorly judged comments which serve only to give a veneer of cover to those hell-bent on causing violence.”
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It comes as the chair of the Community Relations Council in Northern Ireland has warned that political leaders need to translate “symbolic gestures of reconciliation and peaceful partnership” into meaningful action.
Speaking ahead of today’s parades, Tony McCusker continued:
“What is needed now… is a clear commitment by our political and civic leaders to translate these gestures into practical and positive change on the ground. The continuing absence of a meaningful good relations strategy at the heart of government makes it difficult to energise and drive forward local initiatives and to create local conditions conducive to dialogue.
“Those who refuse to engage constructively with others on issues of parades and flags need to be challenged by political and civic leaders if we are to avoid the mayhem which threatens to drag us back to the past.
“Violent confrontation around parades undermines the goodwill that has been so painfully built up over many years and leaves deep scars in local communities. Above all, it undermines the economic future of people across Northern Ireland.
“It is vitally important that we build a new culture of real tolerance and openness, in which the celebrations of some are not interpreted as the triumphalism over others and in which tolerance and generosity are the dominant themes. This will be a vital dimension of any new policy on cohesion, sharing and integration to tackle sectarianism.”
Meanwhile, the leader of the Ulster Defence Association has been attacked for dubbing the twelfth as the worst day of the year. Speaking ahead of the parades, Jackie McDonald explained:
“The Twelfth really is the worst day of the year for me — because of all the trouble that happens on the way back from the field.”
In a strongly worded statement responding however, the Ulster Political Research Group’s West Belfast branch dubbed the comments as being “reprehensible”, arguing:
“The member’s statement that the Twelfth is his worst day of the year is, in his opinion, based on drunkenness and does not equate to the events including the tireless endeavours of the marshals at Ardoyne and in east Belfast and further afield and is considered by us as totally reprehensible.
“To collectively group these men with drunken fights is totally unwarranted and deceitful.”
Whilst political leaders maybe be the target for much press comment today, for a genuinely shared future to succeed requires effort to be made by all organisations involved, to respect the right of members to have differing opinions and bring to an end the over the top language of “reprehensible” and “deceitful” to describe anyone with a vaguely different opinion to them.
Given that jaw jaw is better than war war, attention now needs to turn to how to better use the jaw.