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We need to build on parading progress

This summer was one of the most peaceful in recent years with none of the violence and ratcheting up of tensions that have been a feature of previous marching seasons.

The vast majority of people would share the hope that this positive outcome can be built upon to ensure that the summer months are no longer marred by the negativity surrounding contentious parades, dangerous bonfires and the intimidatory marking out of territory with flags and emblems.

Crucial to the improved mood was the agreement last October to resolve the long-running Twaddell dispute which showed that local arrangements can be brokered if the will is there.

There is also no doubt that this standoff, which cost an estimated £20 million to police, was hugely damaging to the image of the Orange Order as were other deeply entrenched protests in past years.

Given the progress that has been made on this issue it was rather disappointing for the Reverend Mervyn Gibson, Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, to say that the quiet summer should not be seen as a sign that the parading issue is settled.

In an interview with The Irish News, which covered a number of areas, Mr Gibson said that in the event of direct rule, the order would be lobbying Westminster for the scrapping of the Parades Commission and for new legislation to be brought forward.

In terms of specific disputed marches, Mr Gibson said the Drumcree parade is `far from resolved' and would need to be looked at again.

During his interview, Mr Gibson made plain his position on a united Ireland, his British identity and his assessment of the Sinn Féin leadership and he is absolutely entitled to hold those views and express them firmly.

However, given his senior role in the Orange Order and his influential position within the loyalist community, there will be considerable unease at the prospect of the Drumcree dispute being pushed into the spotlight once again.

Mr Gibson also spoke about the response to the Belfast City Council injunction on four bonfires in July.

``At one point there was talk of a bonfire on every street corner. That was considered,'' he said.

Thankfully, there was no such escalation, something Mr Gibson said `reflected well' on the community, but the fact that it was even suggested and considered has to be regarded as deeply alarming.

The Orange Order should reflect on what has been gained through the years of disputes and disorder, protests and standoffs.

As we work towards a shared society underpinned by equality and respect, we must learn from the past and take a constructive and measured approach to the issues that continue to cause division.

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