Letter: A way forward for Ulster

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The Independent Online
Sir: We congratulate the Orange Order on the positive example set by its decision to re-route or call off four of its most contentious Twelfth of July parades. Their unilateral decision to stay away from contested areas is for the social, political and economic good of Northern Ireland.

In the coming days and weeks, action is needed to repair the damage the Garvaghy Road decision has done throughout Northern Ireland. In a situation where trust has been badly shaken, the Secretary of State must use existing public order legislation innovatively to uphold the right to march while guaranteeing the civil liberties of communities that oppose marches. Neither must be sacrificed to a logic of "greater evil" or "lesser evil".

In the longer term, the Secretary of State must enact legislative reforms to enable local accommodations that take account of people's fears and mistrust. If dialogue is not used to achieve understanding, marches should be re-routed from residential areas where a significant portion of residents indicate they are unwelcome.

Disputants on either side of contentious marches have their part to play in moving this issue forward. Individuals and groups who wish to exercise their right to protest or to march must always do so in a dignified, peaceful and non-confrontational way. Equally, the security forces must refrain from using confrontational policing methods.

Last Sunday's decision was no victory for the loyalist orders. It was not based on the right to march, but on fear of violent reprisal. The Orange Order decision, however, represents a significant moral victory that in no way erodes their right to march. The Women's Coalition calls on others to follow their positive example.

BRENDA CALLAGHAN

MARGARET LOGUE

ROBIN WHITAKER

Northern Ireland Women's Coalition

Belfast

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