The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Time to Grow Up


Protestant marching orders and nationalist residents' groups need to wise up, grow up, and talk face-to-face in 2006 to avoid a repeat of last summer's parade violence which brought global shame on the island.

Dr. John Coulter • 6 February 2006

Sort it out now and don't let stick-in-the-mud political parties hijack parades to delay the peace process and the return of Stormont!

That's the blunt message from the overwhelming majority of the North's 1.7 million population to the leaderships of the Loyal Orders and residents' groups.

Since the parades controversy kicked off in the North in the mid Eighties in Portadown, marching has become a major political football used to justify sectarian point scoring and hardline stances.

Normally, the marching season begins over Easter, but the new Parades Commission jumped in the deep end by banning an Orange protest march from walking along Portadown's Garvaghy Road in late January.

New Commission boss Roger Poole said it was a unanimous decision. This is an ironic twist as the new Commission includes two leading Portadown Orangemen – David Burrows and Don MacKay.

Ian Paisley's DUP has also raised political temperatures maintaining unionists will not accept devolution of policing and justice powers if it means the involvement of Sinn Fein in their administration.

The new firebrand talk from the Paisley party has further fuelled the view the Loyal Orders and nationalist residents should negotiate their own solutions, telling all shades of political opinion to 'bog off'.

All you need is a quiet room with a table, a few chairs and some refreshments – along with a large dose of common sense and the reality you're supposed to be grown-up, mature adults – not primary three school brats fighting over who gets to play in the sandpit.

Residents' groups need to be more selective in picking their spokespeople. In the past, the sight of former republican prisoners plastered all over the media spouting off on behalf of Catholic families living along contentious parade routes has been a red flag to the Orange and Black bulls.

Instead of convicted terrorists as your front people who only serve to wind up the Prods, why not have respected Catholic businessmen, doctors, academics or industrialists, who will generate confidence and credibility for legitimate nationalist concerns.

And given the paedophile scandals which have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years, using genuine priests and untainted clergy to speak for residents groups – such as Father Aidan Troy of the Holy Cross parish in north Belfast - could also be a double-edged sword to restore Catholic rank and file confidence in its clergy.

However, don't select hotheads like Father Alec Reid and risk the Orange delegation walking out after being branded Nazis. The Redemptorist priest landed himself in very hot water when in an off-guard moment, he publicly branded unionists as Nazis. Father Reid was one of two independent clerical selected to witness the disbanding of Provisional IRA arsenals.

However, the vast majority of the changing will have to be done by the Loyal Orders, especially Orangeism. Whilst around 100,000 band and Order members can parade peacefully on the Twelfth each year, the Order lacks the internal discipline to prevent its protest parades being hijacked by loyalist working class extremists.

The Drumcree debacle has tarnished the image of the Order globally, particularly during Druncree Four in 1998 when Catholic brothers Richard (11), Mark (10) and Jason Quinn (9) were killed in a loyalist arson attack on their home in Ballymoney, Co Antrim.

Senior Orange chaplains called for the Drumcree protest to be ended as a mark of respect to the murdered children – their plea was to earn them death threats from the dissident Loyalist Volunteer Force terror group.

The parades balls-ups had deteriorated to the sewer-pit position where respected Protestant clerics were being threatened with execution by so-called loyalists.

And putting senior Orange representatives on the Parades Commission will not be a solution – that will only infuriate the residents' groups. Face-to-face talks between the local residents and the local Orange lodge is the only key to peace.

There is no use the Order's ruling body, the Grand Lodge of Ireland, trying to impose its own solution from afar. It is only by ordinary people from both sides on the ground engaging directly with each other – without the pressures of either a Grand Lodge directive, or a republican political agenda breathing down their necks – which will see a permanent lancing of the parades boil which has infected the North with its sectarian poison for a generation.

After all, recent progress in Derry between the Orange Order and the Bogside Residents' Group has come as a result of face-to-face negotiations – firm proof this direct method works.

Orangeism needs to aim for the so-called Rossnowlagh Solution to all its parades. For generations, on the Saturday before the main Twelfth demonstration, Southern Orange lodges along with invited Northern guests, have a mile-long dander along the Donegal coast to the beach at Rossnowlagh for a family day out.

The Co Donegal Orange Lodge works closely with local residents and the Gardai to ensure a peaceful day out with no hardline political speeches.

Given the Whiterock riots in Belfast, the Dunloy confrontations in north Antrim, and the Drumcree standoff, the Protestant Marching Orders may soon find more freedom to parade in the South – a state they don't want to be loyal to; than in the North, a state they profess to be loyal to.

With Orangemen planning to march through Dublin this month for the Love Ulster rally, maybe the solution is staring Protestantism in the face – find a series of isolated coastal villages in the South like Rossnowlagh and move the Twelfth lock, stock and beer barrel to the Republic.

Localised talks will not ensure a permanent peace to the parade protests. Internally, the Orange needs to radically change. It must cease the political speeches at the Twelfth and return to being a purely religious institution, focusing on raising moral ethics and spiritual Biblical standards amongst the increasingly secular Protestant community.

The other problem centres around the election of officers within the Orange. People can get into positions for a generations and become wee Protestant Popes in their own areas, preventing young sensible Protestants from progressing through the ranks or even joining the Orders. No Orangeman from Grand Lodge to local lodge should serve more than three years in a single post.

And given the buck eejit displays at Whiterock, provision should be made for sensible Protestants to join the overtly religious Royal Black Institution without having to first hold the Arch Purple degree in the Orange.

The Black is regarded as Protestantism's senior Marching Order and has escaped the parade controversies relatively unscathed. The Black, too, could introduce a more Masonic-style membership balloting, where one black bean during the voting and your application is reviewed in six months' time.

The Loyal Orders, and especially the Orange, need to urgently implement these changes in 2006, otherwise a situation could arise where if the North is inflicted with another series of Whiterock-style rioting, the Brits will ban the Twelfth altogether and abandon 12th July as a public holiday.

Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown has already launched his pitch for a new national patriotic holiday like Independence Day in the United States and Bastille Day in France.

If Brown becomes PM and successfully launches Britain Pride Day, that's the end of the Twelfth in the United Kingdom. Southern Ireland may then become the last bastion of Orange demonstrations on the island.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

14 February 2006

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Time to Grow Up
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