The OFMDFM has published its Consultation Paper on the parading issue – a Code of Conduct and draft legislation. This is one of the products that was promised as part of the Hillsborough Agreement of 5 February 2010.
The Consultation Paper is a densely interwoven 67 page document and will take some time to work through. No doubt it is carefully balanced to give something to both sides.
But on first reading the paper looks extremely unfriendly to the Orange Order and its loyalist friends. Almost all of the issues that others (mostly nationalists) have been complaining about for years are strictly circumscribed, and almost all of the positions that the Orange Order has adopted are implicitly dismissed by the paper.
Nowhere, for example, is there any mention of an unfettered ‘right to march’. Nor of ‘the Queen’s highway’. On the other hand, there is copious protection of residents from sectarian harassment, a requirement that organisers take account of the local context and of any sensitive locations, an ban on alcohol consumption at or near marches, a requirement for organisers to enter dialogue, and so on. The proposal is, if anything, even less ‘orange-friendly’ than the hated Parades Commission. The kinds of abuses that every summer sees will become illegal and the penalties are severe.
In short, it seems as if the future is not orange.
The proposals are not agreed, of course, but it is hard to see how anything could be watered down – these are already the joint proposals of the two main parties. It seems as if even the DUP has tired of the annual disruption and hate-mongering that the marching season creates. These proposals, if adopted, should see the end of the orange supremacist tradition, in practical terms, if not immediately in the minds of the participants. It is likely that a clear and unambiguous set of rules that is robustly policed will quickly become accepted by all – marchers, residents and the silent majority. In a few years marches may no longer be controversial at all.
This is one more step towards ‘normality’ and should be widely supported.