Ulster's new qualification in marshalling and stewardship is designed to bridge the sectarian divide, reports Ann Purdey
SECTARIAN parades in Northern Ireland are on the march again this Easter. They are always controversial, but something good has now come out of them - a new qualification in crowd control.
The republican cause celebrates the Easter Rising of 1916 when members of the movement rose up against British rule in Dublin.
This is regarded as the start of the "long hot summer", which has recently been focused on the loyalist Orange Order's stand-off at Drumcree, outside Portadown.
Local members want to parade what they see as a traditional route, now in a predominantly Catholic area of the County Armagh town.
Others have been equally provocative. The Apprentice Boys of Derry have two major parades each year in August and December. But Derry, once a bastion of Protestant domination in Northern Ireland, is now an almost completely nationalist area. In recent years, both parades have caused substantial civil disorder.
In a bid to bring greater understanding of why both cultures want to continue their traditions, an FE college is to offer an NVQ in marshalling and stewardship at the end of this month.
The East Tyrone College of Further and Higher Education in Dungannon will offer two 10-hour courses up to level 2. And four others across the province - Lisburn, Castlereagh, Upper Bann and the North West Institute in Londonderry - hope to follow suit.
The course is part of an evolutionary process that followed the publication of a book by two academics. They have monitored policing and parades in recent years - particularly the Orange Order stand-off at Drumcree.
The authors, Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan, recommended that such a marshalling course be set up as a recognised qualification.
The Community Relations Council, a Government-backed body that attempts to create a better understanding between Northern Ireland's two communities, was approached about funding. The pilot began last year with the co-operation of the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
The council funded the scheme, which involved training 23 marshalls, with other small donations from the Joseph Rowntree Trust and the Apprentice Boys.
Implementing this training was Sue Watson of Sue Watson Associates, a service training company based in Yorkshire.
Ms Watson has a background in football stewards' training and she taught the 957 stewards at the Euro '96 football tournament at Wembley to NVQ level 2.
"I was approached by Alistair Graham who was then chairman of the Parades' Cmmission to see if the scheme could be applied in Northern Ireland," she explained.
"I was then asked if we could do a pilot scheme with the Apprentice Boys of Derry and this came about last year."
One of those on the course last year was Bill Irwin, a businessman in the city who is also a senior marshal at parades. He qualified to level 3 and will be an assessor during the Marching Season this year.
He said he found the course "entirely worthwhile" and that marshals felt more positive about their role because of the qualification involved.
However, he did have one criticism: "While I enjoyed it and I am pleased I took it to level 3, I do find the paperwork involved too much.
"I am sure I am going to find this even more so this year with my becoming an assessor."
But he also recognised that, during both parades, people came up to the marshals and asked questions.
Tony Dardis, principal of the East Tyrone College, said his college was keen to develop curriculum areas.
"We are constantly trying to find new areas and have had studies in community relations. This seemed a natural progression and we do realise that it is quite sensitive.
"But we also see it as something in the realms of public and community safety. Stewardship is about a Pavarotti concert just as much as it is about a parade.
"We are hoping others will take this on board, such as sporting groups including the Gaelic Athletic Association and other organisations who hold parades. It is not just for one side of the community."
The college engaged Ms Watson to train the staff involved in these courses.
"No one was pressganged into taking this course on and we now have four or five staff, who, having already been involved in community relations courses, are willing to take a step into the unknown," she said.
Anyone wishing to do more advanced work will be able to take the Northern Council for Further Education's certificate in Events, Stewarding and Crowd Control, based in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Mr Dardis sees this as a possibility for those who would act as chief marshals at parades or who would actually organise them.
Will Glendinning, the Community Relations Council's chief executive, said he was pleased that colleges were willing to take on such a course.
"It as a brave step in a society, which at times does not register its cultural diversity," said Mr Glendinning.
"This qualification will give those involved a better sense of responsibility. They will be proud of their own culture, but also realise that other people have a different point of view."