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15 July 2004 Edition

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Orange violence wins the day

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly appeals for calm as the PSNI overturned the Parades Commission ruling. He later had an arm broken by a baton as he tried to calm the situation.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly appeals for calm as the PSNI overturned the Parades Commission ruling. He later had an arm broken by a baton as he tried to calm the situation.

There is a very simple yet powerful message reverberating around the streets and lanes of nationalist areas across the Six Counties this week and that is that unionist violence and intimidation has had a victory over the rights of nationalist people in Ardoyne.

Two weeks ago, this same feeling was doing the rounds as nationalists came to terms with the collapse of the Parades Commission's decision to ban an Orange march from the Springfield Road.

And while this victory has cost the unionists and the British a heavy price in terms of nationalist opinion across Ireland, nonetheless it is there for them to savour while nationalists and republicans lick their wounds and pride and ponder over exactly how they should now respond to future Orange marches through areas where they are not welcome.

Orange fightback

To face into the outcome of the Springfield Road and Ardoyne decisions in these terms is to face the reality that the Orange state continues its fightback and is trying to reclaim ground that it has steadily lost over the last ten years of the Peace Process.

To face into the outcome of these decisions on these terms does not mean that the Peace Process is no longer viable as an instrument of political change or that those forces behind the decisions will win the war, as opposed to the battles they have just won on the Springfield Road and in Ardoyne.

It is quite clear that the securocrats have decided this year to use Orange marches as a ram to batter nationalists and republicans; to attempt through these marches to lower nationalist aspirations and to imply that there is a ceiling to the pressure that republicans can apply to advance nationalist interests.

Securocrat agenda

This is very important to the securocrats, especially after the spectacular result that Sinn Féin had across the island in the European and local elections.

A few weeks ago, republicans were on a high and when republicans are on a high, then nationalists are up there with them. The downside of this is that unionist morale is low.

And we must always remember that the British Government relies in the first instance on unionists to protect its interests in the Six Counties. The British Government cannot afford a situation where the morale of unionism is low, especially at a time when the most truculent element of unionism, the DUP, is in the ascendancy and the British Government is nudging them in the direction of a deal with Sinn Féin.

There is no better way to reverse these moods than to allow Orangemen to march through nationalist and Catholic districts, especially when they have been banned from doing so or had restrictions imposed on one of their marches.

There is a very old political agenda at work with these marches, which cuts to the quick of northern Catholics and nationalists.

There is no better way to show Catholics and nationalists how the state views their rights than to permit an Orange march through an area where it is not welcome.

An Orange march through a Catholic area is designed to remind Catholics of their second class status in society. The Orange Order knows that these marches generate violence and unrest and they require the state's forces to guarantee safe passage. The presence of the state forces inflates the Orange Order's sense of supremacy, while instilling a sense of powerlessness among nationalists and Catholics.

Waning Orange power

The Orange Order symbolises a coalition of interests which stretches back over 200 years. These interests have exercised power and domination. This power resides in the hands of the British Government, the Orange Order, the various unionist parties and loyalist paramilitaries. At one time, they held Ireland for the crown.

There is no doubt that this power is waning. At various times in recent years, the British element of this coalition has stood back from the Orange Order and denied it the much needed military muscle it requires in order to flaunt its sectarian banners and bowler hats in Catholic districts.

There was a time when the Orange Order decided who was Prime Minister of the Six Counties. There was a time when they marched where they wanted to and when they wanted to without paying a price. Those days are gone.

But the new days of equality and respect for nationalist rights being an intrinsic and irreversible fact of life haven't quite arrived just yet.

British u-turns

Springfield Road and Ardoyne represent u-turns of quite significant proportions because the British Government was directly involved in the decisions that led to Orangemen getting their way.

It is inconceivable that the British Government at a senior level was not involved in the decision to reverse the Parades Commission's decision to allow the Orange march on the Springfield Road.

And while the evidence for this belief is thin on the ground there is an abundance of evidence that they were involved in the Ardoyne decision.

There were regular phone calls between senior Sinn Féin personnel and British Secretary of State Paul Murphy in the days and hours leading up to the Ardoyne decision. The Dublin Government and the SDLP were also involved in this lobby to prevent the decision going in the Orangemen's favour.

But the starkest evidence of direct British involvement is the use of the crown forces to impose the will of the Orange Order on nationalists in Ardoyne and Springfield.

Over one thousand members of the PSNI and the British Army were employed to ensure an Orange writ ran in Ardoyne; a similar force was on the Springfield Road.

Garvaghy and Ormeau

Several years ago, when the nationalist people of Garvaghy and Ormeau Road were contemptuously booted off the streets by the RUC to pave the way for an Orange march, the British Government at least could claim that it was new to the scene and made the wrong call.

In this, the tenth anniversary of the IRA's first cessation, the British cannot hide behind that excuse.

Many arguments can be conjured up in an attempt to rationalise what has happened. The DUP, now in the ascendancy, need to point to their success as negotiators in advance of going into negotiations in September and making the 'big deal' with republicans. It is no accident that the DUP spoke on behalf of the Orange Order over the last few weeks.

Loyalist paramilitaries were threatening mayhem if the Orangemen didn't get their way

The choice by the securocrats to use Orange marches was more by accident than design. It was an accident in that they probably didn't see the decisions coming. They had to use their hidden hand inside the political system to reverse decisions taken by the Parades Commission, decisions that were very unpopular inside unionism and were welcomed with varying degrees by nationalists. The essential message to the Orange Order from the Parades Commission's original decisions was further erosion of their power.

Picking up the pieces

When it comes down to it, it doesn't really matter why the British Government decided to do what it did; republicans have to pick up the pieces.

Was their commitment to a peaceful summer taken advantage of? Did the British calculate that republicans would manage the fallout from both decisions in a disciplined way? Are the securocrats abusing the peace process to advance their agenda? Yes is the answer to all three questions.

Are republicans right to work for a peaceful summer? Yes they are. Are they right to manage the fallout from the marches? Yes they are.

Why? Because a violent summer and conflict between nationalists and unionists does not serve the interests of the Peace Process.

And that is the contradiction which republicans face. How do you advance the Peace Process, maintain the momentum for change and high nationalist expectations, while dealing with Orange marches and the state's backing of them?

Standing up for rights

You do it by standing up, as republicans have been doing, for the rights of the nationalist and Catholic people.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the people of the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads thought they would forever be trampled over by the Orange Order.

They took a stand and were supported by others outside their immediate areas. Today they live free from the sound of Orange bands and marching feet.

The stance taken by the people of Springfield and Ardoyne will guarantee that they too will live as the people of Garvaghy and Ormeau are doing.

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An Phoblacht
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