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17 July 2003 Edition

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Now you see it - now you don't


The newspaper headlines read "Sunshine greets 12th Marchers" and "A peaceful but intensely political event". There were full colour, front page photos of Orange marches with the occasional special pull-out section several pages long. Marchers were "blessed" with blue skies, and there were pictures of smiling children dressed in Orange regalia marching proudly beside their fathers and grandfathers.

The BBC continued to exercise its usual political bias by ignoring the controversy surrounding the parades and using public money to promote and broadcast the marches, billing them as "fun for the whole family". As long as your family isn't Catholic, of course.

And so another 'Glorious Twelth' has passed us by, with both unionists and the media falling over themselves to point out that it was "peaceful".

Was it? Why?

Because no one died?

While this may have been a relatively "quiet" Twelfth in terms of violence, it was so only in comparison to past experience. The reality remains that Orange marches were once again permitted into nationalist neighbourhoods without the consent of Catholic residents.

While the BBC was happily televising families eating ice cream and old men lounging barefoot in the sunshine, nationalists were either out of town to avoid trouble, staying close to home for fear of accidentally coming across a march, or firmly cordoned off in their areas anxiously awaiting the outcome of the return marches.

They had not been invited to the big celebration, nor would many have trusted the invitation had they received one. For the reality of the marching season is still far removed from the media whitewash of smiley, happy people.

Just a day earlier, on 11 July, several Catholic residents of Ardoyne, North Belfast, who had failed in their attempt to obtain a court order preventing an Orange march from passing their area, were informed by the PSNI that their lives were being threatened by the Red Hand Defenders - aka the UDA.

A memorial erected in memory of the five Catholic shooting victims of a UFF gun attack on Sean Graham bookmakers in 1992 was vandalised. The memorial, located on Hatfield Streeet just off the Lower Ormeau Road, was covered in yellow paint, obscuring the names of the dead completely.

Meanwhile, back in North Belfast, more than 150 vehicles and thousands of riot-geared state forces blocked the Crumlin Road as Orangemen and their supporters returned home from the main Belfast march.

The PSNI and British Army had moved in to seal off the Ardoyne area around 4.30pm, even though the return march was not due until 7.30pm that evening. Land Rovers, jeeps and British Saxon armoured vehicles lined both sides of the road, with an 18-foot-high metal fence in the middle, designed to partially separate marchers from the nationalist residents they chose to impose upon.

There were British Army snipers on the roofs, and a mob of unionist supporters behind glass on Twadell Avenue - just across the street - waving loyalist flags and shouting sectarian abuse. There were helicopters and spotter planes, police dogs barking, CCTV cameras and plastic bullet guns.

While nervous residents awaited the beating of Orange drums and the stomping of Orange feet, a number of Catholics were stopped by British troops as they made their way to mass at Holy Cross Chapel. Some were even turned back. After mass, Father Gary Donegan escorted several worried pensioners past the gathering crowds, fearing for their safety.

Another pensioner had come to watch the march with a copy of the North Belfast News in hand. The headline on the front page screamed "Shankill Butcher in March Shocker" and detailed the fact that an ex-UDR man, who had also been one of the Shankill Butchers, had been spotted during an Orange parade on the Springfield Road two weeks ago, carrying a banner paying homage to UVF killer Brian Robinson.

The pensioner leaned heavily on his walker as he waved the paper furiously at the stone-faced PSNI men. "This is what we are up against," he yelled angrily. "How can you say we aren't second class citizens when you see something like this? Butchers then and butchers now!"

According to the determinations of the Parades Commission, the return march should have been over and done with by 8pm, but when the Orangemen finally appeared on the scene, it was 8.45pm.

Unionist supporters were allowed through the barricades and down the road long before any bands appeared.

They were mostly male, and many carried off-sale bags or open tins of beer. Some were waving UDA and UFF flags. They shouted "UFF" and "Up the UDA" as they danced down the road, while the grim-faced nationalist crowd stood watching nearby. Several actually had time to stop in the middle of the road and climb onto a concrete traffic island. They then taunted their Catholic neighbours from their new vantage point, giving several salutes which involved one or two fingers or Nazi salutes. Finally British soldiers decided to pull them down and gently encourage them to move on.

Bottles flew overhead from both sides, golf balls came rocketing over from the unionist Twaddel Avenue, but eventually, most of the Orangemen and their supporters disappeared into the night and residents breathed a deep sigh of relief.

The British Army and PSNI began to dismantle the ring of steel they had erected. The metal wall was gone in minutes, but not before many nationalists wondered aloud why the same degree of shielded protection had not been afforded to Catholic schoolgirls at Holy Cross.

The BBC did not show any of this in their coverage of the "Twelfth celebrations". Nor did they show the vast array of unionist paramilitary regalia on sale or display during this "day out for the family".

Also not shown were the "Ten reasons why it's better to be a Prod than a Taig" keyrings. Not heard were the sectarian taunts of "Fenian bastards", "Fuck the Pope" and "Taig whores". Not mentioned were the UVF flags, the UDA banners, the UFF T-shirts, or even the tiny balaclava-wearing Orange sashed doll, sitting atop one unionist bandsman's bass drum.

In fact, if a paramilitary flag or band appeared on camera, the BBC's commentators suddenly turned their attention to other facts, detailing "the history" of each lodge, while their directors scrambled to cut away to another, more peace-loving image in a visual slight of hand that fooled no one.

"Orange Lodge No 404 has more than 150 members and their band won a competition in Scotland recently..."

"Is that right? Well, they sure do sound great here today..."

See no evil, speak no evil. If you don't acknowledge it, maybe it's not there. The entire spectacle brought to mind the children's story of the Emperor's New Clothes.

But it is there.

The tension and danger, the fear and violence, empty streets, closed shops. It is there, in spite of what the press might show, what unionist state spindoctors might tell us, and the state might want us to think.

The marchers in Ardoyne were not participating in a "dignified display" of their traditions and culture. They were drunken thugs, itching to lord their supremacy over their Catholic neighbours.

It's high time that the BBC and other media took their heads out of the sand and conceded that there is nothing legitimate about sectarian displays.

Despite the decline in violence, the offensive nature of Orange marches remains because they ignore one basic fact - they march where they are not wanted, by threat of violence if necessary.

And they do it to remind Catholics that they can.


Ardoyne death threats ahead of Orange march

A number of Catholic residents from Ardoyne who applied for a judicial review against the Parades Commission decision to allow an Orange parade through their area have received death threats from the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by the UDA.

The PSNI contacted a number of people, including two woman, on Friday night 11 July, warning them of an imminent threat on their lives and to review their personal security.

Sinn Féin North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly said one of those threatened had submitted an affidavit to the court asking for an Orange parade through the nationalist Ardoyne and Mountainview areas to be rerouted.

"These threats are a very worrying development and raise serious questions about the ability of the UDA to directly target and threaten those who were opposed to this sectarian march. Who is passing on information to these death gangs?" asked Kelly.

Residents' spokesperson Gerard McGuigan told An Phoblacht the threats were made against the residents to intimidate them.


A burning hatred


The Twelfth of July, the pinnacle of the Orange marching season, is brought in with a bang as the Eleventh night bonfires are lit.

To the loyalists and the members of the Orange Institution who attend these fires, they are harmless and the night is presented as another aspect of Orange culture.

This past Friday night, 11 July, An Phoblacht sent a reporter and photographer to the Short Strand, a nationalist enclave in predominantly unionist East Belfast, to witness at first hand the events surrounding the burning of a huge loyalist fire at the bottom of the Newtownards Road.

Up until the start of this year, a block of derelict flats stood across from St Matthew's church at the junction of the Newtownards Road and Bryson Street, which leads into the Short Strand. The flats were knocked down to make way for redevelopment and immediately the loyalists saw their opportunity to move their bonfire site down to where the fenians would get to see it at first hand.

This provocation was compounded by putting up dozens of UVF and Red Hand Commando flags directly across from St Matthew's; marking out their territory is as important to loyalists as hating Catholics.

So, as dogs urinate on lampposts, loyalists hang out their paramilitary flags. The flags issue is big for loyalists, so no bonfire is complete without its numerous Tricolours and the East Belfast fire was topped with a huge pair.

This year, though, given the feuding within loyalism, there was also a UDA flag awaiting incineration.

As the clock ticked towards midnight, the loyalists began to gather at the bonfire. They had a disco and a band playing live.

The tune of the old republican ballad The Boys of the Old Brigade was commandeered and changed to suit the occasion. So instead of joining the IRA, they were joining the Young Citizen Volunteers.

Most songs had a liberal sprinkling of 'fenian' and 'taig' in them, so I wondered how David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson would reconcile their stated desire to see 'Northern Ireland' a welcoming place for Catholics and nationalists with the rampant anti-Catholicism that was on display.

When the fire was eventually lit, after midnight, it was to resounding cheers. The moment arrived and within minutes the flames were leaping into the air and lighting up the chapel and spewing its poisonous fumes over the Short Strand.

As we sat in the bushes watching, drunken loyalists staggered over to the line of British Army and PSNI that were blocking off the Bryson Street junction to abuse them over "protecting that fucking scum" in the Short Strand.

So it isn't just the fire that spews poison.

The reality is that the sectarian abuse is like the fires and the coattrailing, all part of the Orange Tradition.

An Phoblacht was also told that the loyalist grouping issued a threat to the Parades Commission itself and that Tony Holland, chair of the Commission, withdrew Parades Commission observers from Saturday's march through Ardoyne.

They march where they are not wanted, by threat of violence if necessary.

And they do it to remind Catholics that they can.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1