What exactly were Sinn Féin's commitments on parading?
The Hillsborough Agreement is quite clear:
To set up a co-chaired working group comprising six members, appointed by them, with experience of dealing with parading issues ….Already done.
… which will bring forward agreed outcomes which they believe are capable of achieving cross community support for the new and improved framework. This work will begin immediately and will be completed within three weeks.This imposes a commitment on both sides to seek 'cross community' solutions; i.e. there must be give and take on both sides.
The First Minister and deputy First Minister will promote and support the agreed outcomes of the working group.
This is a given, if the working group, which contains three members of the FM's and three members of the DFM's parties, reaches agreement.
Following the completion of the consultation process a Bill will be finalised.Again, if there is agreement, this will not be contentious at all.
The First Minister and deputy First Minister will support all necessary steps in the Assembly to ensure that the Bill completes all stages before the end of 2010. In parallel the First Minister and deputy First Minister will take the necessary steps to enable the reclassification of parades as a transferred matter.Again, not be contentious at all.
We will promote and support direct dialogue with, and the involvement of, representatives of the Loyal Orders, band parade organisers, local residents’ groups and other stakeholders, as this work is advanced. We will also encourage the participation of local elected representatives in the process of resolution. This work will start as soon as possible.Since Sinn Féin has always supported this, and it was the Orange Order that refused face-to-face dialogue, it's hard to see this causing a problem for Sinn Féin.
So, cutting all the non-contentious issues, what Peter Robinson is saying is that the working group 'must bring forward agreed outcomes which they believe are capable of achieving cross community support for the new and improved framework', or he will resign. And he appears to be already trying to blame Sinn Féin for that!
Robinson is thus, after barely one day of the working group's work, accusing Sinn Féin of intending to block 'agreed outcomes'. On what basis is he doing this? Has he already pre-determined the outcomes (that he wants) and decided that they should be the final outcomes? In which case it is he, and not Sinn Féin, who is already signalling an intention not to compromise and thus to thwart the possibility of 'agreed outcomes'.
In truth, though, what Robinson is probably doing is trying to sound tough, in the light of the clear belief amongst many unionists that the Hillsborough Agreement was a climb-down by the DUP, and a clear win for Sinn Féin. By making it look, in advance, as if it is Sinn Féin that has to cede ground on Orange marches, he is trying to give the impression that the unwritten balance of the Agreement was more even – policing and justice for Sinn Féin, and Orange marches for the DUP.
The problem for Robinson, of course, is that the work of the working group has already been severely limited by the Agreement. In paragraphs 3 and of Section 2 the Agreement basically mandates the working group to agree with the Ashdown review, a proposal which is, if anything, nationalist-friendly – certainly in comparison with anything that the Orange Order wanted.