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How Peter Hain made a hames of the Parades Commission
When the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain appointed two members of the Orange Order to the Parades Commission, he set himself up for a political bruising. But worse than that, he may have fatally undermined the ability of the organisation to function.
Eamonn McCann, 30 Jun 2006
As it sits down this week to consider the annual Drumcree march – scheduled to take place in Portadown on the day of the World Cup final, Sunday July 9th – the North’s Parades Commission is in deep trouble. Hemmed in by legal challenges, the British Government-appointed body faces angry hostility from both sides in the parades dispute.
In what was widely considered one of the more bizarre decisions by a Northern Secretary in recent times, two Portadown Orangemen were placed on the Commission by Peter Hain. Subsequently, one has resigned from the Orange Order, the other from the Commission itself. And Peter Hain’s reputation is even more tattered than at any other stage of his political career.
The story of the appointment of the two Orangemen is indeed bizarre. It reveals ministers and senior civil servants intervening in the appointments process, over a period of months, to produce an apparently deliberate sectarian imbalance within a body required by law to be representative of Northern society as a whole.
What, you might wonder, is the British Government up to at all?
The story has emerged from court proceedings, brought by Joe Duffy of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, and aimed at striking down the appointment of the two Orangemen. Specifically, Duffy objected to the fact that the Northern Ireland Office had written last July to the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys and the Royal Black Institution, asking them to encourage applications to join the Commission. What especially irked Duffy and the Garavaghy Coalition, was that Hain had not written in similar terms, or indeed in any terms, to equivalent groups from the Nationalist community.
The High Court in May backed Duffy and struck down the appointments of Don Mackay and David Burrows, both members of the “Drumcree” lodge, Portadown No. 1. By that stage, Mackay had, in any event, resigned from the Commission. Last week, heaping one embarrassment on top of another for Hain, David Burrows left the Order.