1 July 2004 Edition
A victory for intimidation, violence and threats
Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey has described the last-minute decision by the Parades Commission to overturn its determination and allow an Orange Order parade through a nationalist area of West Belfast last Saturday as "a victory for intimidation, violence and threats".
"Nationalists across the island are angry at the events of the past few days and are watching closely to see if further unionist threats are rewarded with other parades being forced through nationalist estates," said Maskey.
On the Springfield Road the hopes of nationalist residents of a peaceful resolution had been dashed with the Parades Commission's abrupt reversal of its earlier decision to re-route the controversial parade. On Saturday morning, as Orangemen prepared to march, residents were once again subjected to widespread disruption as around 200 members of the PSNI's riot squad flooded the area to facilitate the unwelcome parade.
Nationalist frustration at the Parades Commission's inexplicable capitulation spread throughout Belfast with a number of peaceful protests. Traffic was brought to a standstill across the city as nationalists staged a series of roadblocks to coincide with disruption along the Springfield Road. Residents' spokesperson Seán Murray told a crowd of around 300 protestors: "If we can't move on the Springfield Road, no one moves in Belfast today."
The Parades Commission initially re-routed the Orange Order parade away from the Springfield Road area. Last year, Orangemen defied the commission's determination against the display of unionist paramilitary paraphernalia. A banner commemorating a sectarian killer and bandsmen wearing UVF emblems accompanied the Orange march.
Sectarian displays during the Orange march and the Order's refusal to engage in dialogue with nationalist residents were cited by the Parades Commission as reasons behind their initial decision to ban Orangemen from marching through nationalist Springfield Road.
But in a last minute u-turn and just hours before the scheduled parade, the Parades Commission announced on Friday that Orangemen would be allowed to parade through the nationalist residential area.
Announcing its determination, the Parades Commission said a number of significant developments during recent days had caused it to review its decision. These included the establishment of a unionist parades forum and guarantees of no paramilitary emblems.
Just hours earlier, sectarian graffiti, a large wooden placard with the slogan, "Kill All Taigs" daubed in white paint, was erected by masked unionist paramilitaries on a rooftop overlooking the nationalist Springfield Road.
In the face of such blatant sectarian intimidation, nationalist residents immediately dismissed claims by the commission of "a number of developments" by way of justification as nonsense.
According to its own guidelines, once the commission has reached a determination only a significant change of circumstances can prompt a review of the initial ruling. In banning the parade, the commission cited a number of reasons, including the failure of the Orange Order to engage in dialogue with the Parades Commission and local residents.
"The Orange Order didn't talk to us," said residents' spokesperson Seán Murray, "and the Order has declared that it hasn't spoken to the Parades Commission. So where is this change of circumstance which allowed the initial determination to be ditched?"
Murray labelled the justifications as a sham and accused the Parades Commission of capitulating to unionist paramilitary threats. He pointed out that unionist politicians had repeatedly warned of unionist violence if Orangemen were not allowed to parade along the nationalist Springfield Road.
"The commission says its decision was overturned because of significant developments but what are these developments?" demanded Murray. "Nationalist have not seen any developments."
Murray said the u-turn had rewarded unionist bigotry and hypocrisy. He dismissed the unionist establishment of a Parades Forum as a mechanism to deliver the appearance of dialogue while underpinning the Orange Order's continuing refusal to talk to nationalists.
Orangemen and unionist politicians from both the UUP and the DUP all sat on the forum, alongside unionist paramilitaries of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commandos. At the same time, the Orange Order refuses to speak to nationalist residents, while the DUP have made a political career out of refusing to engage with nationalist elected politicians.
"Unionist organisations and politicians who claim it is a matter of principle not to engage even in dialogue with Catholic residents openly consort with the killers of Catholics. And for this blatant display of bigotry and hypocrisy the Parades Commission rewards them by forcing a triumphalist parade by an Anti-Catholic organisation through a Catholic district," said Murray.
"What kind of message does this send out? It is should come as no surprise that northern nationalists are furious."
The Parades Commission had suggested that the Parades Forum's decision to engage with the commission amounted to engagement by the Orange Order. But even this was subsequently dismissed out of hand by the Order.
Expressing delight at the Parades Commission's "climbdown", Belfast Grand Master Dawson Bailie insisted that the Order had not talked to the Parades Commission or to nationalist residents.
Indeed, the Order is currently in dispute with the Portadown No 1 District Lodge after it allowed some members to travel to South Africa to attend an informal discussion forum sponsored by the Parades Commission.
Apparently, the Orange Lodge at the centre of the Drumcree standoff is not sufficiently hardline to appease the Grand Masters of the Orange Order. Last week, the governing Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland approved disciplinary action against the Portadown Lodge, in the form of excluding No 1 District from attending this year's Drumcree parade.
Meanwhile, an undertaking to refrain from carrying unionist paramilitary flags and emblems was flouted by the marchers along the Springfield Road. Unionist paramilitary flags remained furled but were still carried by Orange marchers. Bandsmen from Monkstown ignored the Parades Commission completely by openly displaying the emblems of the UVF's youth wing.
And as if tensions hadn't been heightened enough, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble called for a similar "sensible decision" regarding Drumcree. Garvaghy Road residents' spokesperson Breandán Mac Cionnaith said the decision should not set a precedent. "The Orange Order has not moved one iota," he said.
The Order is currently seeking to overturn the Parades Commission's decision to route the Drumcree march away from the Garvaghy Road.