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13 August 1998 Edition

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Derry march: first steps

By Martha McClelland

Saturday's Apprentice Boys march in Derry, the first after a negotiated agreement, passed off without any major incident. Sinn Féin national chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin described it as ``the first step towards a wider accommodation'' and called on the example set to be built upon to create a comprehensive settlement of the entire marching issue.

``The pragmatism shown by the Apprentice Boys leadership offers some optimism that a process has been initiated in Derry which, if replicated in other areas, can lead to all the loyal orders accepting the need for dialogue with nationalist communities through which they wish to march.''

Although sections of the media focused on the isolated attack by a small crowd of nationalist teenagers on a member of the RUC after the parade was over, nationalists and unionists alike recognised that the wider picture was of minimal violence compared to other years. The vast majority of nationalists demonstrated great restraint and discipline. Few nationalists other than stewards and a few dozen teenage boys and girls turned up to view the march from the Butcher Street entrance to the Bogside. Of these, only the youngest (from 8-12 year olds generally) got involved in any trouble. Certain youths were involved in one regrettable jeering incident when the 13 Apprentice Boys were walking around the Diamond, as agreed, to lay their wreaths at the Cenotaph. But the discipline shown by the majority throughout a long day was remarkable.

During the Apprentice Boys' annual service in St Columb's Cathedral, the Dean of Derry, Rev William Morton, commended those who worked so hard to effect the agreement. He acknowledged that ``although the significant steps forward such as the agreement do not produce an instant solution, they will help us respect each other's cultures and focus on what we all share from the past.'' He suggested that in the future perhaps the Apprentice Boys could select a theme for each year's march, for example the Famine in Sudan, so that when an average of 30,000 people converge on the city, the occasion could be used by the whole community to have, for example, street collections for famine relief.

This creative approach highlights the sharp contrast between the progressive and the reactionary elements of unionism. On the street, the behaviour of the Apprentice Boys marshals and some of their rank and file members, in particularly the bands and their followers illustrated the deep divisions within unionism.

The Apprentice Boys demonstrated that as an organisation they planned for and were committed to keeping the peace and the agreement. Their marshals were clearly recognisable in bright blue jackets, with senior marshals in radio contact with others. In contrast to other years, drink was not in evidence. Apprentice Boys becoming rowdy were dealt with by stewards, in all but two or three instances resolved in a few minutes or less. The problems were mostly with the bands, and with a group of loyalists standing in Bishop Street. Many were drunk; others displayed a sectarian hatred independent of drink.

As bands are contracted to play by individual Apprentice Boys Clubs, thus are there representing members at club level, they powerfully illustrate the split between grass-roots and leadership.

Sectarian Jamboree


Despite the Apprentice Boys' own rules stating bands would remain silent out of respect for their dead whilst in the Diamond, at least 25 bands played in the Diamond. Numerous UVF banners were carried and three UVF colour parties marched. Following the march past of the Craigwarren UVF band from Ballymena, the parade broke ranks and attacked RUC and nationalists with missiles. Stewards struggled to regain control, while the RUC ran a holding operation, clearly unwilling to tackle the drunken Loyalist supporters egging on the bandsmen. The crowd, eventually subdued, broke into ecstatic cheering again when the South Down DUP band appeared. Apprentice Boys danced and clapped, while the crowd sang ``If you hate the Fenian bastards clap your hands.''

A colour party from the North Antrim and Derry Brigade of the UDA led the Waterside Young Conquerors through the Diamond. Not to be outdone, the Gertrude Star band played the `Sash', then got down on their hunkers in a monkey dance to chant UDA slogans. Some marchers gave Fascist salutes in the direction of the Bogsiders - ironically, at the same time as they passed the War Memorial to those who fought Hitler. Stewards found onlookers' excitement impossible to contain as another band with a UDA banner passed.

After the Ballynafeigh Apprentice Boys Band played the `Sash' in the Diamond, Gregory Campbell appeared, led in by Derry's East Bank band, while his club carried a banner in memory of UFF man Gary `Lofty' Lynch.

 


Meanwhile, watching the parade was Chris Patton, former British minister who heads the Commission for policing. From a perch in the Richmond Centre Patton had a ring-side seat.

Although Apprentice Boys stewards, and often Club marchers, did their best to ensure marchers kept to the agreement, they got no thanks. When the Rising Sons of the Valley band stopped at the Diamond and refused to take the agreed route, marshals soon moved them on.

Former DUP councillor Bill Irwin was told `Fuck off' as he tried to restore order after a Ballymena band played through the Diamond. Marshals came in for flak while restraining fellow Apprentice Boys from verbally attacking RUC. One was punched and kicked to the ground by a loyalist at RUC lines in Bishop Street.

Despite the news media seizing on an isolated attack on an RUC member and pulling it out of context to portray it as typical of the day, what was significant was that for the first time representatives of residents and loyal orders reached an agreement and made a concerted effort to abide by it and ensure a peaceful day. Apprentice Boys from Derry got to march on the Walls, in return for a route intended to allow the city to remain open. RUC allowed citizens freedom of access to their own city. Any violence was minor and brief.

While serious issues remain to be resolved, the work put in by all sections of the community has laid a foundation capable of resolving the parades issue.
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