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13 July 2006 Edition

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Sectarianism of the Twelfth - where is the political leadership?

Flags erected on bonfires in Antrim referring to Michael McIlveen, a local Catholic victim of sectarian murder in the area, are a sickening reminder of the reality of Orangeism and so called 'celebrations' of the Twelfth.

Surely, the family of Michael McIlveen has endured enough heartache without being subjected to these calculated displays of hatred.

It should be remembered however that such barbaric, sectarian displays have been the norm at Orange bonfires in the North for decades. The question must be asked as to how flags, banners and signs, variously mocking sectarian murder victims, promoting hatred of Catholics, encouraging violence against nationalist political representatives, and lauding the activities of unionist paramilitaries is permitted year after year.

And such displays are not confined to bonfires. Loyalist bands bearing the names of sectarian murder gangs and slogans such as 'Kill All Taigs' have accompanied Orange marches through nationalist districts for many years, as they did again this week.

There is a complete and utter absence of leadership on this issue from unionist politicians. Indeed it is widely perceived within the nationalist community that unionist political leaders approve of the sectarianism surrounding the Twelfth. Where is the political pressure on Ian Paisley's DUP to take responsibility for the behaviour of its political supporters? It is in the DUP's political heartlands that the worst excesses of sectarian triumphalism are evident. What are DUP representatives doing to prevent displays like those at bonfires in Ahoghill, Ballymena or on the Shankill Road?

A DUP Councillor was seen helping to build a bonfire in Ahoghill in the middle of the day and did nothing to remove the flag referring to Michael McIlveen which he undoubtedly seen. With such political leadership is it any wonder that Ahoghill has recently been the scene of the 'ethnic cleansing' of Catholic families?

This week's events also bring in to focus recent attempts to rehabilitate the image of the Orange Order and its supporters without levying any responsibility on them to change the worst of their behaviour. In the forefront of the Orange re-branding exercise has been the British Government. Its decision to award the Orange Order with £100,000 of public money was already under question this week as two senior Orange Order members pleaded guilty to membership of the UVF and possession of illegal weaponry.

But the media, particularly in the 26 Counties, has also been guilty of attempting to give Orangeism a cosmetic makeover. In this regard the Southern media has consistently omitted the reality of loyalist sectarianism. Just one example was Wednesday's Irish Times which carried a photograph of a huge bonfire on the Shankill Road, but without the obligatory sectarian displays, despite the fact that this was carried in other newspapers.

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