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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 09:08 GMT
Marching to the beat of optimism
Tony Holland l
Tony Holland looks to a brighter future on parades
As decisions are made over the first controversial marches of the year in Northern Ireland, BBC News Online speaks to the head of the Parades Commission about his hopes for the summer and the long-standing dispute at Drumcree.

For most people, Easter is a sign that spring has taken hold and the warm prospect of summer is just around the corner.

But for Tony Holland, the holiday marks the start of a seasonal headache.

Tasked with heading the Parades Commission two years ago, he has the job of arbitrating on Northern Ireland's long list of contentious parades.

He believes the commission, formerly led by Sir Alistair Graham, has been successful in what it was created to do.

"That is to produce decisions which, while not always acceptable to both sides of the community, have at least been understood as representing a way forward," he says.

What has been a sticking point is the reluctance of the Grand Lodge of the Orange Order to allow engagement by various lodges

Tony Holland

"I think in some areas, and I don't particularly want to name them - because you are almost creating a hostage to fortune in the future - there is no doubt the situation has improved.

"That may not always be down to the Parades Commission, it may be down to individuals within those areas, and more often that is the case than not."

The Parades Commission was set up in 1998 to make decisions on whether controversial parades should be restricted.

Mr Holland, whose background is in law, said he had noticed some residents' groups had realised there were members of the loyal orders who wanted to engage in dialogue.

"What has been a sticking point - and still is - is the reluctance of the Grand Lodge of the Orange Order to allow engagement by various LOLs (lodges) around the province.
Tony Holland:
Tony Holland: "Solution to Drumcree is not an impossibility"

"I think that is a great shame, because plainly the issue is engagement. The commission is obviously firm about this - it's part of the legislation and we have said from the start - as indeed did my predecessor - that engagement is the way forward."


He says the commission did more work during the winter than it had done in the summer.

"This is in terms of getting out and talking to people. We have had two very successful conferences, in the sense that we have involved both sides of the community in those conferences."

I believe a solution to Drumcree is not an impossibility - I think there are ways forward

Tony Holland

Mr Holland says the commission had optimism over parades in certain areas this summer, but in other areas there had been no engagement and even a withdrawal from engagement.

"Overall, I think that the situation will be no worse than last year, and hopefully might be better," he says.

"I believe that there are grounds for optimism in some areas. I think that one can be particularly optimistic when one looks at what happened in Derry."

The commission believes the accommodation reached there can be replicated in other contentious areas.

However, it is the Drumcree parade which is still the major sticking point.
Brian Currin
Brian Currin: Tried to broker agreement

Mr Holland says he does not feel the exit of South African lawyer Brian Currin, who was attempting to broker an agreement on the Drumcree parade, means there is no hope of an agreement over the dispute.

"Brian tried to his very best endeavours, and probably went beyond those, to find a solution. Obviously it was not to be," he says.

"I believe a solution to Drumcree is not an impossibility. I think there are ways forward. It is not for me at this stage to say how I see those ways forward.

"But I do believe that people do realise that remaining on the hill indefinitely is not good, either for Portadown, or for Northern Ireland generally."

Political deadlock

In November last year, Sir George Quigley was appointed by Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid to head a review of the commission.

The basic thrust and structure of the commission works fairly well - plainly it will develop

Tony Holland

The review was promised by the government as part of a blueprint to break the political deadlock at the Weston Park negotiations in July.

Mr Holland says there are areas in the legislation which people are unhappy about.

"Whether or not the commission remains in its present form or not is a matter for the government and for Sir George Quigley," he says.

"The basic thrust and structure of the commission works fairly well. Plainly it will develop - nothing is written in tablets of stone - and indeed the commission may well evolve into something else in the future."

Parades Commission chairman Tony Holland
speaks to BBC News Online
See also:

28 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Parades review 'will be fair'
05 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Drumcree parade mediator quits
07 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
Drumcree mediator starts work
03 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Orange Order reviews strategy
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