Thursday, June 23, 2005

Commission fails to see inescapable truth

Brian Feeney:

Yes, it's true the Fenians cast the first (and last) stone, bottle, golf ball – you name it – at Ardoyne last Friday night.

Yes, it's true the police overestimated the ability of republicans to quell the zeal of young rioters.

Yes, it's true the Parades Commission's grandly named 'determination' meant, in effect, two parades were passing Ardoyne, thereby guaranteeing soaring tensions and easy targets.

All of which helps everyone to avoid the fundamental fact that if Orangemen didn't insist on marching through places where no-one wants them, there would be no trouble at all.

We're often reminded that there are around 3,000 Orange marches a year and that the vast majority pass off peacefully.

Why wouldn't they? They take place in districts where no-one has any objection to them.

They consist of one or two lodges and a band preceeded by a couple of police.

The trouble happens, as it always has since the foundation of the Orange Order, when Orangemen demand to strut through Catholic districts, be they in Belfast, Portadown, Derry or Pomeroy. In such instances an Orange march is inherently violent and intimidatory.

The marchers belong to a sectarian society virulently hostile to the beliefs of the residents they seek to trample on.

In many cases the bands they hire – and it's no coincidence they're called 'blood and thunder' or kick-the-pope-bands – consist of loyalist paramilitaries whose organisations have killed Catholics in the districts they march through. Some carry banners extolling the killers.

Let's face it, an Orange march in such circumstances is the equivalent to the Ku Klux Klan marching through Harlem playing Dixie. Quite simply, it's unthinkable. It would never happen.

Yet Orangemen insist it does and the Parades Commission insists on finding ways to let them do it.

The commission's bottom line, supported by the British administration here, appears to be that it's always easier to get the police to force an Orange march through a Catholic district rather than risk a stand-off with the Orange Order.

In other words, precisely the same situation John Major's lily-livered government caved into annually in the 1990s.

As a result, the Parades Commission has been in full retreat for the last two years and has now reached the stage where it doesn't even abide by its own rules of parade notification.

Last year the commission cravenly agreed to last-minute pressure and wheedling from the so-called loyal orders to allow the march on the Springfield Road.

Remember the self-styled Orange 'commission' last year which was going to talk to residents about 2005 parades if they got marching in 2004? Everyone except the Parades Commission knew they had no such intention and would vanish at the end of August.

Orangemen have always insisted on disregarding the law no matter the price to wider society. They have never acted for the benefit of society as a whole, being prepared from the 19th century to take on the government they supposedly owe allegiance to.

Therefore it's too much to hope that anyone can penetrate the tiny particle of brain their current leadership possesses to explain that the sectarian geography of Belfast has changed, that feeder parades along roads now Catholic are not on any more, that they can hire buses, that marching round north Belfast only shows how much unionist power has diminished – not how much Orangemen control.

One thing you can be sure of is that the Parades Commission won't try. They start from the dopey assumption that if a march is notified it can go ahead as long as the organisers adhere to a list of restrictions.

It never seems to occur to them that the march is planned to be deliberately provocative or, as in Garvaghy Road or on the Springfield Road, in territory long since abandoned by unionists.

Indeed the gates on Workman Avenue off the Springfield Road are there for the sole purpose of being opened each year to let through an Orange march that not a soul on the Springfield Road wants.

We're told they won't be opened this year. Has the Parades Commission finally recognised the Orange march is the problem, not the residents who want to be left in peace?

It's just a pity the Parades Commission is always the last to accept the facts on the ground.

The inescapable truth is that the days of loyalists prancing past Ardoyne shops have been over for years.

Perhaps the Parades Commission reckons they can only stand up to Orangemen at one parade a year and this year it's the Springfield Road? We'll see.

Nationalists to protest Ardoyne march


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