By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
‘Weak, weak, weak’, Tony Blair would taunt John Major in the House of Commons because of his inability to enforce his authority on his mutinous party in the 1990s. It’s an accusation which applies equally to the paper tiger that is the Parades Commission.
Never in the 15 years of its existence has anyone been prosecuted, never mind convicted, for a breach of a Parades Commission determination. So why should any of the predominantly paramilitary-linked bands that the so-called loyal orders swagger along behind pay any attention to the Parades Commission?
The only determination the Orange Order, Apprentice Boys, Royal Black Institution etc and their loyalist fellow travellers worry about is a rerouting because the police usually (but not always) enforce that.
Otherwise the lodges and bands can get away with anything they like and every year they do. After Saturday’s now traditional flouting of the Parades Commission’s determination the commission issued their usual limp-wristed statement.
“Any breach of a determination is a matter for the police to investigate and those involved could be liable to prosecution. The commission will take previous behaviour and any breaches into account in reaching future decisions.”
Yeah, right. The facts are these. Every year loyalist bands are restricted in the music they are allowed to play passing St Matthew’s Church on the Newtownards Road. Every year they play provocative tunes and try to burst their drum skins as they pass the church.
The gutless Parades Commission does nothing. The Parades Commission issues the same determination the following year and the same result ensues.
Never mind the absence of prosecution, the Parades Commission does not modify future decisions.
On Saturday, with the world’s media watching, loyalist supporters took over both sides of the Newtownards Road and jeered any band that complied with the Parades Commission ruling. Most didn’t.
For the marchers St Matthew’s is a home match. St Patrick’s on Donegall Street is an away match with 150 protesters lined up in front of the church so only a few bands breached the restrictions and then only just after they’d passed the protesters.
Given that they’re Orangemen and given their record on previous occasions you wouldn’t expect any comment from Nigel Dodds or McCausland. However, given that Peter Robinson is first minister and that St Matthew’s is in his constituency you’d be entitled to expect that he would have something to say about bandsmen openly breaking the law.
Then again perhaps not, given that he signed the infamous letter on August 25 which encouraged marchers to defy the Parades Commission. You can bet none of the signatories would be behind the door if it was protesters at fault. Only loyalists are allowed to choose which laws to break.
It’s time now to find out if the PSNI will be recommending any prosecutions after August’s defiance. If they keep shtum after that and Saturday’s breaches - and Matt Baggott’s soppy response to the events indicates they might - it will simply encourage the so-called loyal orders to laugh at the Parades Commission’s rulings.