Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

16 July 2009 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column












Traditional routes or bloody-mindedness!

SOCIETY in the North of Ireland is steeped in tradition, so much so that when residents find certain marches objectionable, tradition all too often is cited as the over-riding rationale for perpetuating offence.  Now while there is much to be celebrated as ‘tradition’ on this island, it is time that the difference between ‘tradition’ and ‘bloody-mindedness’ is clarified.
This year we have experienced the ‘bloody-mindedness’ of some who wish to impose ‘their’ tradition on communities who do not share their sense of ‘tradition’.
Every year, in the six-month period ending on the last Saturday in September, loyal orders organise in excess of 3,000 marches.  That’s an average of 500 marches a month. The disruption caused to society by these exercises in tradition, including closure of town centres, the blocking of arterial roads and the massive deployment of the police service, would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world.
Only a very small percentage, now down to less than a dozen, are staged in areas that do not enjoy or welcome these demonstrations of Orange culture. Rather than accept the fact that demographic change means that the so-called ‘traditional route’ is no longer appropriate, the orders invariably demand that their ‘tradition’ must take precedence and be imposed on protesting residents.
In recent times, the Orange Order, with the assistance of substantial public funds, has attempted to rebrand its 12th July demonstrations as some kind of ‘Mardi Gras’ under the banner of ‘Orangefest’. While this modernisation is to be welcomed, it does not address the problem of the small number of controversial parades that disrupt.
Year after year, in the weeks approaching the marching season, the Orange Order has hinted at an ‘interest’ in dialogue if only they can get over this year without problems. Unfortunately, their ‘interest’ in dialogue rarely is delivered.
A number of weeks ago, at Bodenstown, Martin McGuinness challenged the Orange Order to step up to the mark and address this issue once and for all.
I do not believe that it is an unreasonable demand of the Orange Order, as a contribution to building peaceful relations on this island, for them to voluntarily reroute half a dozen out of over 3,000 marches.
If the loyal orders wish to receive the respect of nationalists and republicans then they need to recognise our right to object to yearly exhibitions of intolerance.
In addressing the pressure that loyal marches impose on nationalist areas, I want also to emphasise that the orchestration of violent confrontation to these marches by those claiming to be republicans is in clear defiance of the vast majority of the residents and are the road to nowhere. These micro groups cannot and should not attempt to claim that they are acting in defence of their community.
The most effective way of removing the potential for confrontation is for the orders to engage with their nationalist and republican neighbours and to sensitively and voluntarily plan marches so that they do not encroach on areas where they are found to be either offensive or unacceptable. This should be the primary objective – not ‘tradition’.

LOYALISTS MARCHERS: Their ‘interest’ in dialogue rarely is delivered 


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