In this paper last July, South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt penned a piece about the aftermath of the annual Orange procession through (increasingly nationalist) South Belfast.
More in sorrow than in anger, the SDLP man described a scene more Oxegen than Orange with on-street drinking, urination and litter-strewn streets and, of course, every main road in the constituency — where unionists have long since failed to win a majority — was bedecked in British colours.
The fact that most nationalists had decided to desert their homes, leaving the Orange and their inebriated hangers-on to it, told more about the true nature of the Twelfth as ‘a festival for all’, argued Mr McDevitt, than a thousand Orange Fest press releases.
The South Belfast MLA’s points were made in a bid to start discussion with the Orange Order over the nature of its parades, the failure of the Orange leadership to take any responsibility for the mayhem left in their wake and the need for greater respect for the people of South Belfast — of all hues.
His comments clearly fell on deaf ears because in the weeks following his widely-circulated column, no-one from the Orange Order stepped forward to put the case for the defence.
And that’s a pity because lack of dialogue — as has been proven by the Orange Order’s refusal to meet residents groupings — only widens divisions and feeds mistrust.
For that reason the Joint Unionist Centenary Committee shouldn’t be surprised at the trepidation felt by nationalists at the prospect of a two-day ‘cultural event’ in Ormeau Park on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 May.
In a sign of the changing times, none of the nationalist parties in City Hall objected to the event itself, marking the centenary of the Ulster Covenant.
However, they did ask that the organisers spell out full details of all the feeder parades heading to the Ormeau Park on 19 May — especially those going through the contentious areas of East Belfast, Ormeau Road and Ardoyne.
Unfortunately, the organisers have refused to provide that information — not a healthy sign of the ‘family affair for all’ in Ormeau Park which had been promised.
It’s crucial that, as we move into a decade of centenaries, events to mark those key moments in our history — from the signing of the Covenant to the Easter Rising — do not set relations back in this city.
However, the behaviour of the Joint Committee has the potential to damage relations between our communities at the very time when we should be healing the wounds of the past rather than opening them once again.