Monday, May 22, 2006

Equality remains beyond grasp of NIO

Brian Feeney:

Just suppose our beautifully maintained proconsul had appointed Breandan MacCionnaith and John Duffy to the Parades Commission last November.

You can imagine the reaction from unionists: the traditional ranting and raving from Paisley though now in his old man's piping whistle, the protests, boycotts, walk outs. Indeed it is unlikely there would now be an assembly if an event as unthinkable as the nomination of two Garvaghy Road residents had occurred.

And yet our proconsul in his insufferable, imperious manner did the precise equivalent. He appointed two Orangemen whose membership of the Orange order, whose attitudes, behaviour and public statements made them, as yesterday's (Friday) judgement said, self-evidently 'partisan'. Despite protests from nationalists and despite the glaring irregularities exposed in the Orangemen's applications and the procedures used by the appointment panel, our proconsul arrogantly stuck to his decision.

His appointments were manifestly unjust and discriminatory because he had nominated two participants in a dispute to sit on a tribunal adjudicating on that dispute.

A child could have seen how outrageous his actions were. Now his actions have been condemned as unlawful and discriminatory by the High Court at great cost to the taxpayer because costs were awarded against the NIO.

Why is it unthinkable to appoint two men from the Garvaghy Road Residents' Association yet alright to appoint two men from the other side of the dispute and sustain them long after they had lost any credibility? Here we come to the heart of the matter. It is clear that the NIO do not view the Orange order and nationalist residents' groups as having equal status. Central to the NIO's inherently unionist psyche lies the notion that the Orange Order should enjoy some kind of official status. In short, the issue is one of equality, a concept which remains eternally beyond the grasp of NIO officials.

As a result, the NIO solicited applications to the Parades Commission from all loyal orders, the four main churches and main political parties, but not from any nationalist community or residents' group. The high court said, 'the government considered it important to ensure that their [loyalist] perspective was heard within the commission'.

In a crucial criticism of this one-sided approach the judgement held that there was 'an obligation to consider whether it was necessary to target those groups within the nationalist community which opposed the perspective of the loyal orders'. Equality folks, equality.

Disgracefully the NIO not only didn't consider the nationalist perspective but actively didn't want a representative of a nationalist group about the place. You can see them scratching their heads now and asking, 'How can them fenian residents' groups be equal before the law with the Orange Order?' Equality is so hard to stomach, eh?

What is our proconsul's response to his huge humiliation? Not surprisingly, denial, insolence, arrogance, the typical attitudes this British government exhibits towards the courts and the rule of law. He issued a statement of exquisite balderdash claiming that the fatally flawed commission he had sellotaped together had been 'very successful at building trust and confidence'. It has not. On the contrary, his political interference has reduced this commission to a shambles.

We are informed from the proconsul's Welsh retreat that he intends to take legal advice. Huh. They all say that. The advice will be the judgement is a slam-dunk. He'd be better considering the consequences of his unlawful appointments and serious misjudgements. The marching season looms. Six weeks from today Portadown Orangemen will be demanding to march along Garvaghy Road. Will anyone replace our proconsul's ejected Orangemen?

Is there time for the proper procedure? How would the NIO know? Breandan MacCionnaith is right – our proconsul has contaminated the whole commission.

Perhaps the most revealing consequence is the insight into the discriminatory mindset which drives NIO policy. The honourable action would be to resign, to spend more time with his sunlamp but there is no chance of this guy falling on his sword.

It is just as unthinkable for him to be brought down by two fenians from the Garvaghy Road as it was for the NIO to recommend appointing them. No, he won't go. His neck is solid brass. Be assured, however, Blair will be ripping. This is our proconsul's last ministerial appointment.

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Sectarianism: it's not both sides


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