Letter: Marching against civil rights

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The Independent Online
Sir: There can be only one basis for achieving long-term peace in Northern Ireland and that is an undeviating adherence on the part of the Government to the norms appropriate to a civilised society. Every time the British government abandons such norms, as it did this week in Portadown, it puts back the peace process and justifies new resorts to violence.

The crucial question for government cannot be "Who is likely to produce the most violence here and now?" but "Which violence is grounded in a just case, which in an unjust?" For 70 years our government has been intimidated by the threat of Orange violence. Until that is seen to end, it is utterly implausible to expect Catholics as a whole to back peace unequivocally.

On the one hand this basis dictates acceptance that the political status of Northern Ireland cannot be altered against the wishes of the majority; on the other it dictates no less emphatically that it is intolerable to impose on a group of citizens inhabiting a street a politico-religious demonstration abhorrent to them.

The population of the Garvaghy Road had a perfect right to say no to an Orange procession and very good reason for doing so. The Government and police had a duty to uphold that right. The Orange Order had no right to march in such circumstances. Walking on the Queen's highway is a right, of which in point of fact the Garvaghy Road residents were temporarily deprived. Marching is never a right, only a privilege.

It is now a matter of urgency that a law be passed that nowhere in the United Kingdom will a private group be allowed to stage a political or religious demonstration down a street whose population has strongly objected to it.