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23 June 2005 Edition

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Attempting to reassert the Orange state

BY LAURA FRIEL

PSNI officers in riot gear attacked nationalist residents

PSNI officers in riot gear attacked nationalist residents

Is the DUP attempting to re-assert the Orange state? To northern nationalists the signs currently emanating from unionism and its political leadership are sadly familiar. Even more worrying is the apparent willingness of the British and their administration to accommodate it.

It comes as no surprise to republicans that the most reactionary elements of unionism have rallied behind the banner of Ian Paisley's DUP. It is, of course, their natural home. It comes as little surprise that the DUP is attempting to use the annual mobilisation of those reactionary forces, the Orange marching season, to assert its ascendancy within the unionist family.

The marching season began with a tactical attempt by the Orange Order to undermine the Parades Commission. A number of parades were deemed illegal after the documentation necessary for authorisation was deliberately completed incorrectly.

Members of the Orange Order in East Belfast, including Grand Master Robert Saulters, were subsequently questioned by the PSNI after one of a series of illegal parades took place. DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson threatened trouble if the Orange Order were challenged in East Belfast.

Ian Paisley warned British NIO Security Minister Shaun Woodward that it would be "madness" if attempts were made to stop parades because a form had not been filled in to the satisfaction of the Parades Commission. Some 33 parade applications had been rejected because officials had refused to enter their names as the organiser. Under new rules organisers face legal responsibility for parades.

The Parades Commission was accused of creating tension and over 500 people attending an Orange Hall meeting in Ballymacarrett demanded the resignation of the district commander of the PSNI.

The Parades Commission announced that it was prepared to be 'flexible' and that despite the fact that the Orange Order had deliberately flouted the rules to engineer a confrontation, the commission would make further determinations in an effort to "ease community tensions".

It's a curious and telling statement. The row, manufactured by the Orange Order, is about the legality or otherwise of the Orangemen's applications to parade. It involves the Parades Commission and perhaps the PSNI. So what possible impact does that have on 'community relations'? Unless, of course, the Parades Commission believes unionists will seek to victimise nationalist communities if they don't get their way.

Whatever the Orange Order is about, we can be sure it isn't about flexibility and true to form the Parades Commission no sooner announced its decision to back down than senior Orangemen and DUP politicians were calling for its immediate abolition.

Launching a campaign demanding that the British Government disband the Parades Commission, Orange Order spokesperson Reverend Mervyn Gibson said the "climbdown" had come too late and accused the Commission of "arrogance, ineptitude and incompetence".

"The [British] Government can no longer ignore the crass stupidity of this quango whose decisions are polluting the atmosphere in which meaningful progress can be made," said Gibson.

"Its tactic of punitive sanctions in an effort to force people to talk is morally corrupt and counter-productive. We implore the Secretary of State, Peter Hain to listen to the voices of the unionist family and disband this hindrance to a lasting peace."

The morality of refusing to speak to nationalist residents while insisting on parading an anti-Catholic organisation past their front doors is not something the Order is prepared to ponder. If it did, it might just consider its own abolition. Not that nationalists are seeking an end to the Orange Order, just dialogue and the exercise of choice.

Meanwhile, the Orange Order was making it known that the decision to re-route a controversial feeder Orange parade, due to take place this Saturday, a few hundred yards away from the nationalist Springfield Road, was also not to their liking.

Belfast Grand Master Dawson Bailie described the re-routing as "unacceptable". Fears of unionist street violence increased after Orangemen met in West Belfast to discuss protesting against the Parades Commission decision to re-route them away from Workman Avenue to a newly-constructed roadway through the old Mackies site.

Last year, the commission initially barred the Order from marching through Workman Avenue, a gate within the peace line that remains locked at all other times throughout the year. But the decision was overturned hours before the parade because of a threat of unionist violence.

Thousands of Orange parades take place throughout the north every year with only a handful of contentious parades through nationalist areas being contested. But accommodating their nationalist neighbours isn't part of the Orange lexicon. The Order, bringing three Shankill-based lodges, has applied to parade through the nationalist Springfield Road twice again on July 12.

Orangemen are also "deeply angered" by the Parades Commission's decision not to allow another feeder parade from passing Ardoyne this weekend. Last week, the unionist Tour of the North ended in rioting in which a number of people were injured.

North Belfast remains tense after the first major parade of the Orange marching season descended into violence last Friday. Dozens of PSNI Land Rovers lined the Crumlin Road hemming in nationalist residents on the Ardoyne side while loyalist residents gathered on the other side. On the way to their parade Orangemen use buses to travel through the nationalist Ardoyne but insist on parading through the area on their return journey.

Missiles were thrown as bandsman from the Orange lodges passed but worse violence erupted when the PSNI allowed a second parade of Orange supporters, including unionist paramilitaries to pass through the nationalist area.

Many nationalist residents complained that the PSNI had been heavy-handed and abusive. One woman standing in the front garden of her own home said a PSNI officer had told her to "fuck off" and to "go away and shut your fucking door". Other residents complained of being hit with riot shields. The PNSI deployed a water cannon against local people.

Republicans worked hard to defuse the situation and prevent young people from engaging in rioting. But it has to be said that, particularly in an area like Ardoyne, which has suffered years of state repression and sectarian attacks, not to mention sectarian discrimination, forcing an anti-Catholic parade through the area without any attempt to engage that community in dialogue is a recipe for disaster.

The Andersonstown News editorial put it more bluntly, "to clear the street for a drunken, bigoted rabble who have travelled across the city to spit in a community's face, and when the backs of the PSNI are turned on loyalists and their batons are turned on nationalists, then there is going to be trouble".

But this wasn't to be the end of the provocation.

Anger as Seán Kelly is arrested

At a time when the IRA is known to be engaging in dialogue about its future role within the Peace Process, the arbitrary arrest and detention of a well-known republican ex-prisoner from Ardoyne is an act of political vandalism.

Seán Kelly was arrested after the PSNI stopped a car in which he was travelling at Carlisle Circus in North Belfast as Ardoyne was still recovering from the Orange parade of the night before.

The arrest followed lobbying by the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson and on the order of the newly-appointed British Secretary of State Peter Hain. It also followed unionist briefings against the appointment of Hain, who they had tried to brand as pro-republican.

"I am satisfied that Seán Kelly has become re-involved in terrorism and is a danger to others and while he is at liberty is likely to commit further offences," said Hain.

"My priority is the public safety and the interests of the whole community and I cannot permit freedom to an individual intent on abusing the opportunity they have been given to benefit from the early release scheme."

It was an act, at best, of gross political naivety and a clear indication that Hain not only hasn't a clue but lacked the sense to recognise he hadn't a clue.

Speaking at the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy described Seán Kelly's arrest as "wrong and unjustified" and creating more difficulties for the Peace Process. Murphy said Peter Hain had made his "first serious mistake" and pointed out that Kelly had been a positive force in preventing interface violence in North Belfast.

He said Kelly's re-arrest might deter republicans from going out on the streets to try and quell law and order situations. He dismissed the idea that it would impact on the IRA's current process of internal debate. Those behind the arrest will probably hope that happens, said Murphy but the IRA was a "much more mature" organisation than that.

PSNI Chief Hugh Orde maintained a diplomatic silence about the impetus behind the arrest while making it plain that the decision rested entirely with Peter Hain. "The Secretary of State has made a decision and we have acted on that decision in compliance with the law," said Orde.

A man not known for reticence when it comes to blaming republicans, Orde's lack of enthusiasm for Hain's action tells a story in itself.

And within days Hain's decision began to unravel. The media had arbitrarily linked Kelly's arrest with Friday night's disturbances in Ardoyne but they were unable to even substantiate his presence let alone any wrongdoing. The link was made primarily on the basis of a photograph taken a month earlier of Kelly at the scene when trouble flared in Ardoyne between young Celtic and Rangers supporters following a football match.

The photographer had captioned the image with the acknowledgement that Seán Kelly had been trying to calm the situation. The same photograph later appeared in a local Shankill newspaper with the claim that Kelly had been engaging in sectarian rioting and calling for his licence to be revoked. It was a spurious claim but one immediately championed by the DUP.

Nigel Dodds, DUP MP for North Belfast, said: "There has been an accumulation of evidence in relation to this particular individual's appearance during trouble and violence in Ardoyne."

Apparently, Seán Kelly's mere presence is an act of criminality to the DUP. Their position stands in sharp contrast to Orde's acknowledgement that "community representatives in the area tried to bring the situation under control".

But this is not about alleged individual criminality; Seán Kelly's re-arrest was an act of political sabotage aimed at the IRA in particular and republicans in general. Other DUP politicians were more up front in their comments.

Jeffrey Donaldson said that he hoped that Seán Kelly's return to jail would "send out a clear signal to the Provisional IRA that terrorist activity will no longer be tolerated by the British and Irish Governments".

Kelly has since been moved within Maghaberry Jail after an Ulster Defence Association prisoner threatened to kill him on Tuesday. Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly called on prison authorities to ensure Kelly's safety while in custody and called on Peter Hain to release him immediately.

Seán Kelly's solicitor has pointed out that his client has yet to be questioned about any incident. Meanwhile, the PSNI have revealed that just days before his arrest they had no evidence to link Seán Kelly with any interface violence.

The evidence emerged in the form of a letter written by a senior PSNI officer four days before Seán Kelly's arrest. In a reply to an allegation by UUP MLA Michael Copeland concerning the photograph taken of Kelly during the earlier football-linked disturbances, PSNI Chief Inspector Colin Taylor wrote:

"Initial enquiries have established that while Kelly has been seen during incidents of civil disorder, there is NOTHING to suggest he was breaking the law at the time." The PSNI officer concluded: "No further investigations are being proposed at this time."

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said the PSNI letter confirmed that Seán Kelly's arrest was politically motivated. "This letter shows that even the PSNI saw Seán Kelly was helping to keep the peace along the interface. The revocation of his licence was a sop to unionists and entirely unjustifiable. We are calling on Peter Hain to release him immediately."

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the arrest of Seán Kelly was either based on substantial evidence or was a grave mistake. Ahern said he would viewing the nature of the evidence.

At a time of heightened sectarian attacks by unionist paramilitaries, Kelly's re-arrest has been all the more despicable. Within the last week, there has been a series of attacks on the homes of nationalist families, the most serious near Whitewell, in North Belfast.

So are the DUP hoping to re-assert the Orange state? In the past, the Loyal Orders were never called upon by the then Orange state to abide by the law. They were the law and their 'right' to march, even when it escalated into an orgy of anti-Catholic violence and intimidation, remained unassailable.

It is hardly surprising that reactionary unionism has balked at the imposition of the modest restraints of the Parades Commission and resisted the nationalist community's quest for dialogue and accommodation as a means of managing provocative marching.

In the 1990s, the Orange Order made its stand at Drumcree and we all remember David Trimble, Ian Paisley and Billy Wright and we remember the fear and suffering imposed on the people of Garvaghy Road, and we remember the RUC's refusal to hold the line. We also remember those who were killed by unionist paramilitaries in support of the Orange Order, from Michael McGoldrick to the Quinn children

But the fact is, the Orange Order was defeated. The refusal to correctly complete Parades Commission documentation to authorise parades is a far cry from Drumcree. It's less of a bang and more of a whimper.

However, the arrest of Seán Kelly and threats to revoke his licence is an outrageous development and an affront to republicans, particularly within Kelly's own community of Ardoyne. The mass arrest of republicans was once routine for a state maintained by repression. There can be no return to such a situation and rather than sacrificing anyone's liberty as a sop to unionism, the British Government would be better suited to disabusing the DUP of their fantasies about resurrecting the old Stormont regime by excluding republicans from an executive.

Sooner or later the DUP will have to wake up to the reality that those days have gone forever.

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