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30 July 2010

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The ‘Glorious’ Twelfth?

Parading, policing and protest gone riot Ella O’Dwyer talks to Sinn Féin Cuige Úladh Chair Seán Murray about the ongoing parades issues

Seán Murray

THE violence that captured news headlines on the Twelfth were caused primarily by the insistence by the Orange Order on riding roughshod over the wishes of the nationalist community, according to a leading republican who has been trying to help solve the parades issue.
The parading through nationalist areas gave elements opposed to the Peace Process the opportunity to exploit genuine community concerns and incite local youths while calling on career criminals and other anti-social elements to cause chaos and destruction in nationalist communities. It’s clear that those behind the rioters were more concerned about undermining Sinn Féin than resolving the issue of contentious parades.
During the disturbances, a masked gang stopped the Belfast to Dublin Enterprise train at Lurgan and had doused luggage and scouts’ rucksacks with petrol with the stated intention of burning the train. The intervention of community workers and local people seems to have brought the attackers to their senses.
Belfast’s Ardoyne is one of the worst-hit areas in the loyal orders’ annual ‘celebration of culture’.
Sinn Féin Cuige Úladh Chair Seán Murray has been in prolonged and high-level contact with loyalists, unionists and members of the Orange Order over recent years in an effort to resolve the parades issue.
“The membership of the Orange Order is often divided on how to bring about resolutions to parade disputes,” Seán says. “The main problem is the failure of the Order’s leadership to realise that the days when they could march wherever they want are over.
“They recently rejected the draft Parades Bill, showing their inability to face up to the new political realities and that is ultimately the cause of the violence in Ardoyne on the Twelfth.
“The division in the Order is essentially down to an internal power struggle based on party politics. The Orange Order is a broad church and there’s a lot of party politics below the surface.
“Recently they held an internal meeting to discuss making a submission to the consultation paper which is out at present on the Public Assembly Bill. Delegates sympathetic to Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice and the Ulster Unionist Party linked up and out-voted the pro-DUP delegates to inflict severe embarrassment on the DUP. That shows the internal divisions.”
The Orange Order didn’t play a positive role in relation to the drafting of the Public Assemblies Bill, Seán Murray notes.
“This is highlighted by their failure to engage with the Working Group on Parades, established under the Hillsborough Agreement, and their refusal to make a submission to the consultation process. In their haste to abolish the Parades Commission, they clearly gave no thought to what should or would replace it.”
There are other factors too, he says, that contributed to the rioting that occurred in Ardoyne on the Twelfth.
“There were anti-Peace Process elements involved and they had a clear agenda - they are out to undermine Sinn Féin’s political and policing projects.
“Their focus is on the inter-related issues of policing and parades. They are trying to use these issues to manipulate and distort the genuine concerns and fears of some people while attempting to build support for themselves, especially amongst the most vulnerable in our community, our young people.
“They orchestrated the riots - and we have clear evidence of that - and brought young people, career criminals and anti-social elements into conflict with the PSNI while bringing chaos, inconvenience and destruction to their own community.”
There are two return parades in Ardoyne, Seán Murray explains.
“There’s The Tour of the North, which is due to pass Ardoyne every second year. The Orange Order, for reasons unknown, filed to pass Ardoyne this year as well.  The Parades Commission made a determination refusing this request, which was the right call.  In response, no protests were held by the Orange and the Tour of the North passed off peacefully. Indeed, it was one of the most low-key parades in recent years.”
But the Parades Commission gave the go-ahead for the Twelfth return parade- a decision based on the notion that the Twelfth of July parades are part of the unionist tradition in the North.
“They ignored the concerns raised by residents, Sinn Féin and other political parties and church leaders who highlighted the clear potential for conflict and the adverse impact on community relations in the area.
“It was the wrong decision and one which gave anti-Peace Process groups a pretext to orchestrate riots in response to the Orange parade. But, fundamentally, the parade being allowed to pass Ardoyne was the catalyst for the trouble. If there had been no parade there would have been no pretext for rioting.”
Then there was the PSNI’s  response to the rioting.
“They formed static lines to ‘absorb’ all that the rioters could hurl at them, in reactive mode. But, to our dismay, they fired a large number of plastic bullets, 70 in total in Ardoyne alone.
“We totally condemn the use of any plastic bullets. They are lethal weapons and at least two young men were seriously injured by them.
“Community activists and party members articulated this position to the PSNI on numerous occasions over this period, highlighting the intentions of the orchestrators of the riots and the negative reaction of all members of our community to the use of these lethal weapons.”
The imagery of the rioting in Ardoyne and west Belfast indicates the level of tension that arises during the marching season. For many in the South and further afield, the issues are complex. As Seán Murray points out:
“It’s time for us all to get informed and the leadership of the Orange Order know they have to change. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’.”

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