Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

18 July 2002 Edition

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Orange propaganda


Anyone who has been in the north of Ireland during the Orange Marching season, particularly at its height over the Twelfth, will remember the frustration and fear experienced by many Catholic communities.

Frustration, because at the height of the summer vacation, Catholic families (particularly poorer Catholic families with less options to escape) are cooped up, corralled, curfewed and cordoned off.

Fear, not only because of the specific trauma of anti-Catholic parades forced through Catholic neighbourhoods, but also, during a period of heightened anti-Catholic spectacle, individual members of the Catholic community are even more vulnerable to sectarian abuse and attack.

Statistically, those most vulnerable to violent injury within the north of Ireland are Catholic males between the age of 16 to 25 from North or West Belfast.

Significantly, this is also the group most likely to flout the informal restrictions endured by Catholics living in a sectarian state - informal restrictions that, in Belfast, render large swathes of the city's facilities off limits to members of the Catholic community.

Of course individual Catholics, by employing a certain amount of subterfuge (which usually entails the discarding of school uniforms, Celtic and GAA tops, Claddagh jewellery and even their Irish or Catholic associated names) manage to pass themselves off as non-Catholics and attend Leisure Centres and entertainment and shopping complexes.

Naturally, to feel obliged to engage in such deception is deeply humiliating and offensive and consequently many more Catholics simply stay away.

While this kind of covert oppression is endured throughout the year, it is during the Orange marching season that the northern state is most clearly exposed as a sectarian state. Far beyond the actual Orange parades, it is manifest in many other ways.

There is the fact that many industries and businesses tailor their annual closure to facilitate participation in Orange marches.

There are the massive military operations undertaken by the British Army and PSNI/RUC, the entire modus operandi of which is geared towards instilling nationalist acquiescence.

The obvious exception, Drumcree, where Crown forces currently face down Orangemen determined to parade through the nationalist Garvaghy Road, only emerged after years of campaigning and considerable international pressure.

And it also includes uncritical media coverage that obscures outrageously inflammatory speeches during Orange rallies in favour of the characterisation of the Twelfth as a wholesome family day out.

This year, Orangemen and their families were invited to consider "Catholic hypocrisy", "institutional genocide" which "had reduced a majority to the minority" and the "cohorts of Romanism and republicanism" by DUP leader Ian Paisley.

Assistant Grand Master William Ross described republicans as "evil and hell bent", while Independent Orange Grand Master George Dawson declared Orangemen had been robbed.

Just a few hours earlier, Orangemen and their supporters attending Eleventh Night bonfires cheered as masked and armed loyalist paramilitaries fired volleys of shots and issued statements renewing their threats against the Catholic community.

"We cannot stand back as Protestant families living in interface areas are being murdered," a masked UDA gunman told the Shankill crowd. In a similar scenario, a UVF gunman threatened 'reprisals'.

No such murder has, in fact, taken place, let alone the multiple killings the gunman suggests. But these are the inflammatory imaginings of the bigot and racist attempting to rationalise anti-Catholic hatred and violence.

A few hours later, the sentiment was being reinforced by Paisley's crude assertion that Catholics were "pushing Protestants out of employment". The setting and semantics might have differed but the message of hatred remained the same.

Systematic sectarian discrimination has ensured that Catholics remain more than twice as likely as Protestants to be unemployed, but from the DUP to the UDA, fantasy rather than facts fuels their sectarian agenda.

And this year, in a determined effort to facilitate Orange Parades, as well as riot squads and plastic bullet guns, the British Army and PSNI/RUC also deployed delusion and deception.

In a false propaganda exercise, British Crown forces attempted to refocus attention away from ongoing anti-Catholic attacks while seeking to redefine the problem as one of potential republican and nationalist violence.

"Police chief fears night of madness" ran the front page of Belfast's Newsletter on the morning of the Twelfth. Now the PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan, with the help of the media, was feeding the Orange passion for perceived grievance and imagined threat.

"Republicans are planning to bring mayhem to the streets of North Belfast tonight on the biggest day of the Orange calendar," said the Newsletter.

McQuillan warned that "violence was planned on a major scale at a protest in Ardoyne as the Orange marchers passed through the area".

"The police chief said he had clear information that wheels were in motion to bus in hundreds of young republicans to the flashpoint area and that large quantities of petrol and acid bombs are being manufactured," said the Newsletter.

"This is not black propaganda. This is a real concern about what some evil people up there are planning," said McQuillan.

To add credence to the Assistant Chief Constable's warning, PSNI/RUC Chief Inspector Colin Taylor appeared photographed amidst a cache of 'lethal' missiles and 'weaponry' uncovered in a raid of Ardoyne.

"Lethal haul uncovered in Ardoyne" ran the headline of the Belfast Telegraph. In the photograph accompanying the claim, there were less than two dozen empty beer bottles and a tiny pile of less than 30 bricks. In short, nothing more than the usual debris to be found littering any area on any day of the week.

So insignificant was this 'haul' of bottles and bricks, even the photographer consigns them to the background. In the foreground crouched the Chief Inspector, surrounded by "vicious spikes" which according to Taylor have been "specifically made for nothing other then to injure members of the security forces".

"The discovery of the spiked metal implements is especially sinister," said Taylor and proved that the Assistant Chief Constable had been correct when he said republicans were planning violence, he said.

"We are very concerned that there may be other stashes of weapons which we have not yet found," said Taylor.

Unfortunately for McQuillan and Taylor, the vigilance of an International Observer was to thwart their propaganda exercise. An early riser, on the morning of the Twelfth, the Observer had noted and dutifully photographed British soldiers dismantling spikes which formed a security barrier on the top of Ardoyne's Credit Union building.

The same kind of security barrier can be seen on the roofs of commercial premises throughout Belfast and probably throughout the north. However, the spikes removed from the Credit Union roof by the British Army later appeared as a 'lethal', 'sinister' and 'specifically manufactured' 'weapons' cache uncovered by the PSNI.

The deception was exposed when the photograph taken by the International Observer appeared in the media three days later. Even the bottles were discovered to be empties left out as usual by a local bar to be picked up by a brewery lorry.

And as to republican youths, as North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly pointed out, "the only strangers being bussed into the Ardoyne were Orangemen, their supporters and the PSNI".

"In Ardoyne within the last two years there have been dozens of loyalist bombings and attacks against nationalist residents," said Kelly. He accused McQuillan of "carrying out an operation which demonised and criminalised the Ardoyne community.

"Four years ago, while in charge of the RUC in Derry, McQuillan predicted at an eve-of-march press conference that republicans in the Bogside were planning a riot. He said he had information suggesting that thousands of petrol and acid bombs were being prepared," said Kelly.

"There was no riot, no petrol bombs and no acid bombs, only an attempt to provoke young nationalists into conflict. McQuillan was clearly attempting a similar strategy in Ardoyne," said Kelly.

Accusing McQuillan of false propaganda, Kelly said the smokescreen of an imaginary "great republican conspiracy" masked the real problem, which was that an anti-Catholic march was being pushed through a Catholic area.

An Phoblacht
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