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5 July 2001 Edition

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The Orange Order's last stand?

BY LAURA FRIEL

In their recently published book on Drumcree, Chris Ryder and Vincent Kearney identify the refusal of Orangemen to embrace change and accept their Catholic neighbours as equals as the core of the dispute around Drumcree:

     
For over five years now, the Orange Order and its loyalist supporters have besieged the small nationalist community living around the Garvaghy Road. In the name of Drumcree, Catholic residents have been intimidated, harassed, threatened, attacked and occasionally killed
``While many Orangemen regard the Order as a religious and cultural institution, others cherish it as an instrument of supremacy for asserting domination over Catholics... these uncompromising Orangemen increasingly see themselves as being politically and culturally emasculated. For them, and for the unruly loyalist elements who have made common cause with them, Drumcree has come to symbolise this loss. For them, it is the Orange Order's last stand.''

Significantly, the authors have recognised that it is not forces outside Orangeism which pose the greatest threat to the Order but Orangemen themselves.

There are over 3,000 annual Orange marches and only a handful of these are contested. Nationalist residents who have challenged contentious marches have never called for marches to be banned, merely rerouted. And what's the big deal? Orangemen get to march where they are welcome, while nationalists can get on with their daily lives free from sectarian harassment.

Orangemen have everything to gain from compromise with their Catholic neighbours and everything to lose from intransigence. Tragically, though, the Orange Order has stubbornly turned its face to the wall, refusing to engage in dialogue, let alone compromise.

And yet, as the accommodation developed between the Royal Black Perceptory and the Bogside Residents Group last week has shown, Orangemen have nothing to fear from dialogue, compromise and the exercise of mutual respect.

Commenting on the Derry decision, BRG spokesperson Donncha MacNiallais pointed out that there are not the same fears in Derry as there are, for example, in a place like Portadown, where nationalists are a beleaguered minority. ``As a nationalist majority (in Derry) we must be willing to treat a minority with tolerance and understanding. We must in short, lead by example,'' said MacNiallais.

And it's an example Orangemen in Portadown would do well to follow. For over five years now, the Orange Order and its loyalist supporters have besieged the small nationalist community living around the Garvaghy Road.

In the name of Drumcree, Catholic residents have been intimidated, harassed, threatened, attacked and occasionally killed, at times on a daily and nightly basis. In some instances, they've been prevented from going to work, going to school, shopping in the town, attending chapel, receiving prompt medical attention, even burying their dead in peace. In short, Catholic families have been victimised, brutalised and traumatised. And it still continues.

And where has all this led the Orange Order? Into lawlessness, disorder and disgrace. In the eyes of the world, Orangeism has become totally discredited and even within their own community, the Orange Order has lost credibility and support. And is all this really necessary?

Of course not. There was a possible compromise available from the very start and despite intense provocation, it remains there today. It involves rerouting away from the Garvaghy Road, the heartland of the nationalist community, but it also involves nationalists who also live on the edge of that community tolerating the disruption and provocation of an organisation rooted in anti-Catholic sectarianism and a triumphalist parade.

In a recent document by the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, which was presented to international mediator Brian Currin, the group admitted ``there is a growing body of opinion within our community which would seek the GRRC to argue, quite justifiably, for the banning of the Drumcree march in its entirety''.

But, says the residents' group, the ``GRRC prefers not to adopt a position of seeking an outright ban, however justifiable, on the entire march'' because such a stance would ``prevent any meaningful and genuine dialogue''.

The proposal urges the Orange Order to accept the compromise of an alternative route, effectively Orangemen returning from Drumcree along the same route by which they arrived. In return, the GRRC offers to guarantee, despite projected demographic trends which suggest that soon the entire neighbourhood will be Catholic, ``a policy of non opposition to marches'' along this route.

The Order refused to compromise. Five months later and now, on the eve of another Drumcree, we're all back at square one with all parties the losers; the nationalist community under threat and the Orange Order courting further disgrace.

Last week, loyalists, the foot soldiers of Orangeism, were centre stage, threatening murder and mayhem if the march did not proceed. ``LVF gunmen in chilling Drumcree terror vow'' ran the Sunday Life headline.

``Compromise is not an option,'' said the LVF source. ``The only compromise the LVF will consider is whether or not to allow McKenna his last rites.'' For the Sunday People, the threat was heightened by ``Neo Nazi bid to bomb out Ulster Catholics''.

British fascists with a history of racial violence are ``heavily involved in plans to stage street demonstrations in loyalist estates across the province to coincide with Drumcree'', we were warned.

Combat 18 intends to ``target Catholic churches and schools'' and ``intimidate ordinary Catholic families'' ran the story, as if this was something new. Of course with Johnny Adair still behind bars, the UDA has been more cautious in issuing direct threats. ``We won't cause trouble,'' ran the Newsletter headline, quoting the UDA. But individual UDA members would exercise ``their right to show solidarity with their fellow loyalists at Drumcree''.

This week, it has been the turn of the RUC. Last weekend the intervention of the RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan turned on its head a determination by the Parades Commission not to allow loyalist bands to march through the nationalist Springfield Road area of West Belfast.

Acting as Orangemen by proxy, the RUC initiated and delivered a new route which brought loyalist bands onto the Springfield Road via the Mackies factory. To do this, Flanagan sought and secured the acquiescence of the British Secretary of State, John Reid, and the compliance of the Parades Commission. Reid requisitioned Mackies and the Commission reviewed its position and both met the RUC's Orange agenda.

And now, a similar scenario is being played out around Drumcree. On Monday, the Parades Commission announced its decision to reroute the Orange march away from the nationalist Garvaghy Road. On Tuesday, a delegation of unionist councillors led by Portadown Orangeman David Jones pressed the Commission to reconsider.

``We put forward our point of view that this is an issue of competing rights and we felt it was time, after 150 applications for a parade in three years, that the Orange Order's rights were recognised too,'' said Jones.

First in the door on Wednesday, RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan met with the Parades Commission as news broke that the Commission had put their initial decision to reroute the Orange parade away from the Garvaghy Road under review.

The commission has three choices - to uphold their original determination, amend it or issue a new one. The British government has only two. Uphold the right of vulnerable nationalist communities ``to live free from sectarian harassment'' or capitulate to the Orange state.
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