Grieving for a Lost Supremacism

The loyalists who paraded past Ardoyne on the morning of the 12th July carried a banner stating ‘End hatred of Orange culture.’ The banner was brought to the interface at Twaddell Avenue and placed on a wall during protests in the days after the Twelfth.

It is a gross error of judgement for loyalists to introduce the words ‘hatred’ and ‘culture’ into the discussion around loyalism’s ‘festive’ Twelfth period.

Here is what an online thesaurus throws up when the word ‘hate’ is inputted:  abhor, detest, loathe, dislike, despise.

Let’s see if we can find illustrations of ‘hate’ in the conduct of loyalists over the Twelfth period.

Let us begin with the festive 11th Night bonfire tradition. Many of these have been funded by local government councils for a number of years now, as Alan’s helpful thread has outlined.

The conduct of loyalists at these gatherings gives a firm indication as to the mindset of many within their community at this time.

Earlier in the week, news broke of a statue of the Virgin Mother having been placed on a bonfire at Lanark Way at the west Belfast peaceline. The public outcry led to the statue being removed and given to Fr Gary Donegan of Holy Cross Monastery, though not before it had been defaced.

The Irish News reported that an effigy of the Pope was burnt in Sandy Row whilst the National Flags of Poland, Palestine and the Vatican were burned at Cluan Place.

The Polish community has come under attack from loyalists before, including this sectarian attack nearby to where the bonfire was sited, for which a man was jailed less than a month ago.

Loyalists have ‘previous’ when it comes to taking exception to other outsiders as well as their catholic, nationalist neighbours.

The Pride of the Raven band that stopped outside St Patrick’s Church to play The Sash (a hymn, according to a tweet over the weekend by former Flag Protestor now PUP rising starlet, Johnnie Harvey) was involved a number of years ago with orchestrating a parade along Donegall Pass in Belfast that was widely interpreted as a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate the Chinese community in the city.

And, of course, the band that stood outside St Patrick’s and played The Famine Song last 12th July returned to the parade this year, with a number of bands reported in the Irish News as striking up the song mocking the death of one million Irish people just as they’d cleared the church on Donegall Street. And wasn’t it nice to see the loyalist, William Bell, who pleaded guilty to common assault during last year’s parade in a subsequent court appearance, when the Shankill Road YCV band were filmed playing The Famine Song outside St Patrick’s, invited to participate in the parade and walking past the church again this year.

What was that about hatred?

Replica shirts of football teams- Celtic, Cliftonville and the Republic of Ireland- associated with the neighbouring catholic, nationalist community were placed on many bonfires to be burned.

The Irish National flag in many formations and of a wide variety of sizes, was burned by the hundred across loyalist parts of the north (though it was noted that, on a number of bonfires, citizens of the Ivory Coast would have immediately spotted their flag being prepared for burning.)

An effigy of Fr Matt Wallace, a Belfast priest who committed suicide last month, was purportedly also placed on a bonfire in Newtownabbey. This incident recalls a previous loyalist cultural bonfire in 2005, which mocked the suicide deaths of a number of catholic teenage boys in Ardoyne. Then, the effigy signs read ‘Up the Ardoyne bungee jumpers.’

It also recalls the mocking of the sectarian murder of Michael McIlveen from a loyalist bonfire , who died after being savagely beaten by loyalists in Ballymena.

And, not to be outdone, effigies of nationalist politicians, amongst them the SDLP’s John Dallat, were also burnt from bonfires,  including a death threat from the Garvagh bonfire.

Of course, it should be noted that loyalists reserve the right to lay claim to entire communities and districts regardless of demographic composition nor the residential or commercial nature of the areas through the erection of flags, arches, bunting and painted kerbstones to claim the area as a dog might when urinating on a lamp post (this is not exclusive to unionism, though exists on a much, much smaller scale when it comes to republicans and as a practice lacks the type of political cover loyalists receive from unionist politicians for engaging in such acts.)

The proliferation and siting of flags is of itself part of loyalism’s strategy of aggressively claiming ownership and seeking to goad ‘the other.’ Hence the Ballyclare riots of July 2011 and subsequent expansion of the campaign in 2012 to harass catholics where they gather (ie at church) in majority protestant east Antrim by increasing the number of churches where flags were flown. The mentality driving this conduct was best outlined by Antrim unionist councillor, Mel Lucas, in 2009. Rejecting a call for him to condemn those who erected loyalist flags outside a catholic church in Antrim town, Lucas claimed, “It’s all British, even the bits outside the chapel.”

Objecting to this practice can be a very dangerous exercise. Only days ago, a woman was forced to flee the Fountain estate in Derry after her home was attacked- and that of a neighbour- following words she’d exchanged with loyalists seeking to erect a flag outside her house.

And then there’s The Twelfth itself.

500+ parades on the Twelfth is proof positive that there is no erosion of the British unionist culture in the north of Ireland. The cultural war cry raised by Mervyn Gibson and Edwin Stevenson would be laughable were the consequences not so serious- a cultural war which includes the Orange Order marching without opposition through the centre of the largest majority nationalist city in the north of Ireland, Derry; a cultural war that has seen republicans support funding for the British Queen’s Jubilee celebrations; and, as I have comprehensively illustrated recently, unionism’s efforts at aggressively asserting its political/ cultural identity have continued apace at council level in the past six weeks alone without nationalists feeling the need to launch their own equivalent of a flag protest.

There are, of course, many Orangemen and their followers who seek simply to enjoy their day in the sun without malice entering their mind. But the sheer weight of evidence makes it impossible to reach any logical conclusion other than that the 11th Night and Twelfth commemorations are used by a large section of loyalism to express their hatred, loathing and abhorrence of their catholic, nationalist neighbours.

What is it about?

Phil MacGiollabhain has put it well: they are grieving for a lost sense of supremacism, kicking out at their neighbours in the process.

And Phil has some harsh words for the Orange Order and their supporters in political unionism in the aftermath of this year’s Twelfth commemorations.

“What we have witnessed this week end in Belfast is grieving for a lost status. The British unionist community has a place on this island, but not one based upon privilege or any imagined supremacy.

Moreover they no longer can call upon the local forces of law and order to do their bidding or to look the other way as they gather on street corners to put the taigs in their place.

Those rioters are not better than their nationalist neighbours.

They are not ‘The People’; they are just people, just like the rest of us.

If they finally get that then they might earn my respect.”