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15 August 2002 Edition

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The Ardoyne double standard


It is not clear exactly what principle was being defended between 8.30am and 8.45am on Saturday morning by the Parades Commission, the RUC, the British Army and, most importantly, the British government, as they conspired to ensure that the Ligoniel Walkers Club got to march, unwanted, through Ardoyne to the beat of a drum decorated with UVF insignia. They then climbed aboard a coach to take them to Derry where, as part of the Apprentice Boys' march and the celebration of centuries of anti-Catholicism, they could also enjoy the abuse of nationalists and the glorification of sectarian murder promoted by the UDA bands who were also there.

Whatever principle it was, it was a very expensive and certainly wasn't that everyone has the right to live free from sectarian harassment. Hundreds of RUC officers, hundreds more British Army soldiers and many dozens of armoured vehicles of various types invaded Ardoyne from the early hours of Saturday morning, effectively sealing off the area and containing its residents so that two dozen Orangemen could persuade themselves that they still enjoy some kind of supremacy.

Around 200 loyalists had made their way up to the junction of Twaddell Avenue to encourage the Walkers on their way, although some got confused as they tried to clap and cheer the marchers while simultaneously making obscene gestures to the nationalist residents of Ardoyne. The subsequent claim by Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan that the loyalists were pushed back into Twaddell Avenue was simply not true. They remained right at the top of the junction until they were ready to leave.

The fact was that there was no one there to push them back. Positioned in front of them were exactly six Scots Guards, while on the other side of the road in front of the Ardoyne shops, every space between the endless line of closely parked armoured Land Rovers was solidly packed with heavily armed soldiers and RUC/PSNI officers, some with dogs, in full riot gear, all facing the nationalist residents gathered to protest.

A Catholic teenager suffered a broken leg after he was batoned by a police officer.

Throughout the rest of Saturday, loyalists mounted attacks on the Alliance Avenue area of Ardoyne from positions in Glenbryn. The most serious came in the afternoon with two separate bursts of gunfire and a blast bomb. On Sunday afternoon, two small boys found a hoax device that had been dropped in the road towards the top end of Alliance Avenue.

Between 9.30pm on Monday evening and 1.30am the following morning, there were five shooting incidents and a blast bomb attack on Alliance Avenue.

Sinn Féin Councillor Margaret McClenaghan said that "the RUC, who were in a Land Rover not three feet away, heard and saw everything but did nothing. They didn't even get out of the vehicle. When the blast bomb went off, they just drove past and sat at bottom of the street.

"The whole attitude of the RUC on Monday night and last night has been very threatening and aggressive towards residents," she continued. Some 30 RUC officers in full riot gear threatened to remove by force residents who had gathered in Alliance Avenue to protect their homes from possible incursion by loyalists, 150 of whom had gathered at Glenbryn and stayed there throughout the night.


Bandsmen attack homes and SDLP councillor in Strabane

Strabane Sinn Féin Councillor Brian McMahon says that people and property in Melmount Villas in the town had a lucky escape during a missile onslaught by loyalist bandsmen on Saturday, 10 August, while the RUC/PSNI stood by.

"The attack occurred as buses returned from the Apprentice Boys Parade in Derry," said McMahon. "One bus carrying loyalist bandsmen, many of whom were heavily intoxicated, stopped just after the traffic lights at the Bridge Street/Melmount Road junction.

"Given the fact that the area was saturated with RUC/PSNI members and British soldiers at the time, it seems incredible that the loyalist bandsmen were able to stop the Ulsterbus at a busy junction, alight, abuse local people, fire missiles at people and their property and reboard the bus unchecked.

"The bandsmen also kicked out a window at Melmount Villas and tried to throw beer cans at people, property and cars there. Thankfully, no one was hurt or property damaged.

SDLP Councillor Ann Bell was caught up in the attack. She said her car was attacked as she sat in traffic lights on the Melmount Road at around 4.30pm. The loyalist bandsmen opened the emergency exit of their bus, which was in front of her car, and started throwing bottles at her.

"They didn't care what vehicles they hit and I am furious at the reactions of the RUC/PSNI officer, who with British Army personnel, stood idly by and did not stop them or radio for help," Bell complained.

She reported that about 12 loyalists then emerged from the bus and continued to throw bottles at her and an elderly resident as she stood at Melmount Villas.

Bell says that the RUC/PSNI did nothing to stop the loyalists and that she had to drive back along the road to warn other motorists not to go down past the bus.

"One also has to question why the RUC/PSNI did not release a press release to the media about these incidents," said Brian McMahon.


And the parade passed off peacefully


Within the prevailing discourse, violence isn't measured by the level of its ferocity but by the perceived threat it poses to the state
English football thugs have found a simple way of avoiding the sanction of being banned from attending matches. Instead of attacking rival fans at the football stadium, clashes are orchestrated after the match and at some distance from the grounds.

The ensuing violence is much the same, people are beaten, property destroyed, residents are terrorised, but the club cannot be held accountable and their delinquent supporters avoid any long term sanction.

Everyone knows what's going on but, apart from the immediate victims, it's in no one's interest to expose the truth. After all, football in England is big business, and it's in the interests of the state to contain rather than expose the more negative aspects of Britain's national game.

In the north of Ireland last Saturday, the Apprentice Boys held their annual 'Relief of Derry' parade and supporters travelled throughout the Six Counties to attend. Over 12,000 Apprentice Boys accompanied by 140 bands paraded through Derry City.

To their credit, unlike the Orange Order, the leadership of the Apprentice Boys has engaged in some measure of dialogue with local nationalist residents and their representatives in Derry. And the corollary of this has been greater accommodation.

Apprentice Boys' governor Alistair Simpson declared the parade "an outstanding success" and acknowledged the "goodwill" afforded to the Loyal Order in the predominantly nationalist city. Unfortunately, the goodwill extended to the Apprentice Boys was not always reciprocated.

Marchers repeatedly delayed the procession and as it reached the nationalist Bogside, Apprentice Boys hurled insults, made lewd gestures, gave Nazi salutes and shouted 'UVF' and other slogans at local residents. In a racist gesture, one Apprentice Boy was seen holding his nose as he passed nationalist residents.

Questioned about the provocative misbehaviour of some bandsmen, the DUP's Waterside politician Gregory Campbell said that most of the bands he viewed on the parade had behaved "impeccably".

"If evidence is produced to support claims that some bandsmen behaved in a less than impeccable manner, I am sure the Apprentice Boys' governing committee will, if required, take appropriate action," said Campbell.

For Gregory Campbell, racist and sectarian behaviour by Apprentice Boys is a minor misdemeanour to be dealt with as a matter of internal discipline. But while the unionist politician's attitude to loyalist displays of anti-Catholic hatred was dismissive, the appearance of local nationalists wearing Celtic football shirts filled him with indignation.

Catholics wearing Celtic shirts, "only goes to prove that certain people don't want Protestants or Protestantism in Londonderry" said Campbell.

The local PSNI/RUC commander, Chief Superintendent Peter Sheridan, reiterated Campbell's words. Questioning why some nationalist youths were wearing Celtic shirts in the city, Sheridan accused them of being provocative.

"All citizens have rights but people must also be responsible and avoid doing anything that could provoke a reaction," said Sheridan. Questioned about Protestant youths wearing Rangers shirts by a journalist from the Derry Journal, Sheridan declared it was "not the same".

And indeed it is not. In this nasty little sectarian state it is only provocative and insulting to be identifiably Irish or Catholic. To be proud of being Irish and Catholic is downright outrageous.

The subtext is clear; for Unionists, racist and anti-Catholic sectarian behaviour by members of the Loyal Orders is less 'provocative' than being identifiably Catholic or Irish.

Meanwhile, in a manner similar to English football thugs, the Apprentice Boys saved their worst excesses for later, restricting violent confrontation to after and at some distance from the Derry parade.

After the march had dispersed up to 20 Apprentice Boys, some wearing band uniforms, attacked Catholic homes in Barnewell Place in the Waterside area of Derry City. A mob, lead by a man carrying a UVF flag, were captured on video kicking in doors and attacking Catholic homes.

In another incident, Apprentice Boys returning from the parade and travelling on a bus through the village of Kilrea, County Derry, attacked a Catholic man. Barry Quinn was beaten unconscious by a number of Apprentice Boys who had left the bus. Another Apprentice Boys parade is due to take place in Kilrea on 31 August.

In Lurgan, despite the Parades Commission determination that the parade must 'start no later that 7.30pm', Apprentice Boys began to arrive in the town at 8.30pm. The march was illegally forced through part of the nationalist town after Apprentice Boys threatened to riot. After a 40-minute standoff, the PSNI decided to ignore the Parade Commission's ruling and allow the Apprentice Boys through Church Place, against the wishes of local residents. The marchers, who played sectarian tunes outside a local church, also blatantly disregarded a second determination that called for no music.

Earlier in the day in North Belfast, the nationalist community of Ardoyne had been subjected to a massive military build up to facilitate the desire of a handful of Apprentice Boys to march through a Catholic neighbourhood before boarding coaches to travel to Derry for the parade.

Following the Apprentice Boys march, Catholic homes along Alliance Avenue came under repeated sectarian attack, including gun attacks and blast bombing.

But the worst violence in the wake of the Apprentice Boys parade was in east Belfast, where the beleaguered nationalist enclave of the Short Strand came under sustained attack.

In his study of the media, 'Necessary illusions', the American professor Noam Chomsky exposes the resilience of the prevailing discourse to pursue an agenda with little recourse to the facts. A key component in this dynamic is the ability to determine the parameters of the debate.

Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, within the British and Irish media the general consensus regarding last week's Apprentice Boys commemoration of the 'Relief of Derry' was that the parade had passed off peacefully.

This primary evaluation depended upon an underlining assumption. That assumption is that violence and the threat of violence primarily emanates from within the nationalist community. The fact that the Apprentice Boys had marched through the predominantly nationalist city of Derry unmolested thus became the focus of media attention.

The assumption that violence and the threat of violence primarily emanate from the nationalist community is, of course a myth. The Six-County state emerged out of loyalist violence and the threat of violence and has been largely maintained by such ever since.

Condemned by definition as the 'enemy' of the state, the northern nationalist community has endured systematic, often violent, repression by state and pro-state forces. But this is outside the agenda the mainstream media sets for itself. Within the prevailing discourse, violence isn't measured by the level of its ferocity but by the perceived threat it poses to the state.

Within this framework, violence in support of the state is by definition less 'threatening'. In the media, loyalist violence is most often represented as 'secondary', 'marginal', or at best an unfortunate sideline issue.

How else can we understand Gregory Campbell's and the PSNI Superintendent's ridiculous complaint about Catholics wearing Celtic shirts as compared to their response to the real aggressive and provocative racist and sectarian behaviour displayed by Apprentice Boys? How else are we to explain the media's decision that such nonsense is worthy of recording and pursuing?

The terrible truth we all must grapple with if the peace process is to succeed is this. In the Six Counties, the perceived threat of being identifiably Catholic or nationalist or republican is regarded as more significant than the real violence currently being pursued by loyalists attacking Catholic neighbourhoods on an almost daily basis.

And the parade passed off peacefully? Well that's a more a matter of definition than an evaluation of the facts.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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