NI Parades Commission seeks to highlight 'improved atmosphere'

Northern Ireland's Parades Commission has retained Belfast agency Stakeholder Group to boost public perception of the 'improving atmosphere' around parades in the province.

Northern Ireland: A traditional Protestant parade
Northern Ireland: A traditional Protestant parade
Ulster has a tradition of Protestant parades, and the commission’s role is to decide whether a march is contentious enough to warrant restrictions being placed on it.

The quasi-judicial body, which is funded by Government, was founded following the 1996 Drumcree dispute, which resulted in violence after more than 10,000 Orangemen protested when they were prevented from marching through a nationalist area.

It has been a target for criticism, particularly from the Orange Order, whose parade sparked the Drumcree conflict. It has called it an ‘unelected quango accountable to no-one’ and refuses to recognise its authority or engage with it.

As well as educating the public about the commission’s role, the agency will advocate 'that if local groups and leaders step up to their responsibilities and find an accommodation, the commission will not have to impose a decision'. 
 
Tom Kelly, Stakeholder Group chief executive, said: ‘As the commission tries to reach fair and balanced decisions the adage that "you cannot please all of the people all of the time" certainly resonates.

‘Rising tensions, particularly approaching the peak of the marching season, can see the commission criticised across the political and parading spectrum. Our work is made all the more challenging as due to the commission’s quasi-legal role in arbitrating on parades, traditional methods of rapid rebuttal can be unavailable.’

He said the agency’s approach was ‘to help the commission deliver their message consistently through the off-peak and parading seasons, ensuring their reputation reflects the progress they and others are delivering on this difficult issue'.

The agency has been retained since 2004 and will provide media advisory services and media relations services and press office function for a further two years.

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