West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Second Opinion Piece from Derg Cllr Ruairí McHugh

Published: 13 February, 2014

Unionist politicians need to show leadership over Castlederg parading issues

Ross Hussey and other political representatives from within political unionism are continuing to attempt to use the issue of last August's Republican commemoration event in Castlederg for wider self-serving political purposes.

Firstly, political unionism saw this commemoration as a perfect 'opening' to deflect attention away from its abject failure to show leadership in the face of serious Loyalist/Loyal Order violence in Belfast of the preceding weeks.

Secondly, it is the continuation of internal unionist electoral politics being played out with both the DUP and UUP jockeying for position in an effort to outdo the TUV's Jim Allister in appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Thirdly, the combined reaction from within political unionism has been designed to re-enforce its ongoing efforts to establish a hierarchy of victims by questioning the right of republicans to equally remember our dead the underlying objective of which is to attempt to apportion sole blame for the conflict upon one community.

Conveniently, the dominant political and media narrative surrounding last August's republican commemoration in Castlederg has failed to place this event in the context of wider parading-related issues in the town down through the years. For example, little reported was the fact that the last republican parade in the town, which has a 63% republican/nationalist demographic, was 19 years previously while over the same period the town had witnessed in the region of 380 assorted Loyal Order/Loyalist Band parades.

The volume and often the nature of Loyal Order/Loyalist parades was frequently the trigger for inter-communal strife down through the years resulting in a perennial cycle of young people from both communities appearing in court as a result of parade related trouble.

In 2007, and in an effort to bring an end this negative dynamic, Pat Doherty MP and other local republicans initiated a dialogue between local political and community representatives within both communities.

At the request of representatives from the Unionist community these meetings were kept confidential, and while they were never plain sailing, a sufficient degree of mutual understanding developed which helped ease the situation.

From 16th April 2008 to 19th July 2013 a total of 58 meetings were held, these meetings also, at times, involved the PSNI and the Parades Commission. Through these discussions came mutual understandings that the town centre was a 'shared space' and in instances where agreement could not be found by through dialogue that Parades Commission determinations would be accepted and abided by.

The constructive work of this forum led to a substantial de-escalation in tensions around parading in the town evidenced by associated violence, arrests and protests ending.

Sinn Féin always engaged in these talks in good faith and were willing to discuss any issue in an attempt to find agreement. However, when it came to discussion and reaching agreements around the republican commemoration parade in August there was a distinct reluctance to engage from the unionist side.

Most of the unionist community in Castlederg area are genuinely motivated by a strong desire to make progress, but they are being continually stymied in doing so by small reactionary elements who want to turn the clock back such as those who erected union flags in the centre of the town on the eve of the Tyrone Fleadh that was held in the town at the end of June, or by those who subsequently erected UVF and Union flags at the spot where Sinn Fein member Partick Shanaghan had been killed in a clear act of state force/loyalist collusion in 1991.

As we face into another 'marching season' there is now an urgent need for the constructive dialogue, which was bearing such fruit in Castlederg, to once again commence.

The potential to make even greater progress than before would be greatly assisted if the locally elected representatives from the DUP and UUP were to show leadership and agree to sit down with myself and other locally elected Sinn Féin representatives. This would send out a powerful message for now and the future- a message I believe the vast majority of people in the Castlederg area-regardless of political or religious background want to hear. I extend this invitation for them to sit down and begin talking now.