Saturday, 13 July 2013

My thoughts on the 12th

The events of the 12th of July will be assessed and debated for some time to come but of one thing we can be certain, Unionism lost. Unionism lost for several reasons, not least that the Parades Commission as a body remains incapable of rationally perceiving Orange culture and tradition as a worthwhile element of the cultural make up of Northern Ireland. From a starting point of accepting the Republican view that such culture is inherently sectarian all decisions are coloured by that view. Last year the Parades Commission introduced a ruling that was impossible for the Institution to meet, that the parade past the Ardoyne shops should be finished by 4pm, yet the Institution found a way to cool tensions and maintain dignity. With the announcement that the parading issue along with flags and the past would be resolved by Christmas it is even more difficult to understand why the same decision was not made this year, why raise tension now. Clearly the decision involved more than the Parades Commission, Mutual Aid policing is responsive but not as quick as indicated by the speed at which mainland forces arrived. Was it a priority to end Orange parades past the shops prior to some settlement so that Unionist politicians taking oversight of future parading decisions could claim “nothing to do with us we can only start with the status quo the Commission left us” Whatever the comments of senior figures that violence was not inevitable the truth is that it was, it was always going to be unless there was a clearly thought out strategy to prevent members, bands and supporters advancing on police lines. If there was such a strategy, it did not show, instead many young people will find their lives changed over the coming weeks as evidence is gathered over actions they took in the heat of the moment in politically charged rage. Many will come from the very working class deprived communities where political leadership has failed in the past and has failed them now. Republicanism continues to give the impression of moving forward because of its belief in the progressive realisation of its long term objectives. In the scheme of things the Union is no weaker today than it was yesterday but Republicans believe that it is and that message continues to be the message heard by young men and women from the Shankill and the Newtownards Rd whether it is because of a change in the days the Union flag can fly over city hall or the length of road that they can walk on the 12th. The reality is not that Republicans have won victories but rather that we have gift wrapped them and handed them to them. Had Unionists voted in elections the flag would still fly over City Hall, had we had the confidence in our position years ago to talk, not negotiate, about parading then things could have been different. What then is the next step? Clearly protest is not an option unless the sight of young men throwing themselves at police lines fits someone’s political agenda. The Institution and bands can put pressure on those who will sit with Richard Haas to resolve the issue by declaring now that engagement with police and Parades Commission will end on the 31st December 2013. Such a statement threatens no-one but makes clear that the current inequitable and divisive system must end. Politicians are elected to give leadership, in the next 5 months we shall know if they are up to the task.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A wasted opportunity

With the declaration that the police college at Desertcreat remains £18 million overbudget surely someone in authority is asking if this project remains viable. Given that David Cameron continues to transfer disused army bases to the Northern Ireland Executive surely one of these such as St Patricks in Ballymena or Massereene in Antrim offers far better value for money. The idea of a world class police college sounds good but in the absence of a world class education estate or a world class Women's and Children's hospital wouldn't a functional police college suffice. As our children continue to be educated in 30 year old portacabins and patients are treated in Victorian era institutions is there no one in the Executive capable of standing up and saying to David Ford "enough is enough". As a society we cannot always have everything we want but those in authority should be focussed on delivering the infrastructure that we need. There are greater priorities in our society than a so called world class police college so massively over budget, even when the bells and whistles have been removed.