In direct contradiction to recent claims made, Loyalist/ Unionists parades have NOT doubled since 2005. In actual fact, as a proportion of all parades in Northern Ireland, Loyalist/ Unionist parades have actually went DOWN since 2005….
Like most band members, when I heard there was going to be some news coverage of the band scene in Northern Ireland on television last night, immediately I was bracing myself for the worst. I was assured by some that no, this was going to be a positive story; but Bands aren’t used to receiving much positive publicity and I reserved my judgement. Yesterday morning Good Morning Ulster ran with a scaled back version, and the full commentary went on Newsline last night. So what were the taglines?
Well first we had some reasonable interviews with bandsmen from the Upper Falls Protestant Boys Flute Band from Suffolk West Belfast. Situated in a small enclave, the Upper Falls band are like the vast majority of bands, an integral part of their local community structure. The guys expressed their views sincerely and honestly, accurately reflecting many band member views especially those bands in urban environments. Essentially it boils down to people doing something they love and that it’s a fundamental part of their lives. In turn they resent what they feel are politically motivated misrepresentations about their Raison d’être.
That part was essentially a useful mask for the main story however. The rest? Well there were four parts. Firstly there are more bands than ever, secondly there are twice as many parades as ten years ago; and thirdly, bands have benefited from almost one million pounds of funding. Finally- and the whole reason for the piece- to tell us all that because there were more bands, parades and funding; the belief of Unionism that elements of its culture are under attack is utter poppycock.
The number of bands referenced was 660, whom Queens University’s Dr Paul Nolan says are ‘registered’. Where they are registered beats me because there is no universal body covering or registering all bands, governmental or internal to the movement. Despite that he’s about right, and we didn’t need told. There are twice as many bands in Northern Ireland as there are GAA clubs; it is the Province’s largest musical movement (one of the largest over the entirety of Ireland and the UK in fact); and it’s still growing. There have been two new bands formed in the last few months alone. Young men and women are joining bands, and band organised processions this year have been attracting larger crowds than in many years.
The number of parades quoted is a different matter. As far as I can see from all available evidence the basic figures quoted were total and unadulterated nonsense, and the veracity of that claim can be laid out very quickly. According to Dr Nolan in 2005 there were 2,120 (or did the reporter mean that was the amount of Unionist parades but didn’t say that? No. They wouldn’t have deliberately tried to mislead. Of course not…). No there weren’t. The Parades Commission says there were 3,424 (from 1st January to 31st December- all my referenced stats are based on that time-span both in 2005 and 2013). According to Dr Nolan in 2013 there were 4,637. Well the Commission actually has more, namely 4,719! 3,424 to 4,719 isn’t doubled, it’s an increase of 38%.
Ok, that’s still significant. Or is it? Again using the Parades Commission’s own information gathering system, parades that are specifically designated as Unionist in 2005 were 2,193 (very close to the claim in the reporting that ‘In 2005 there were 2,120 marches’ in total. But no, they wouldn’t mislead deliberately. Of course not…). Under the exact same reference in 2013 there were 2,719. So far from doubling in ten years there has been an approximate increase of 526, less than 25%. Considering we had a year of significant one-off centenary commemorations; as well as flag protests, and daily parades relating to Twadell and other disputes in Stoneyford not in existence in 2005 resulting in more applications, in truth the increase is close to insignificant. The headline from the 2005/ 2013 comparison isn’t the increase in ‘Loyal’ parades, it’s that the proportion of ‘Loyal’ parades have dropped from 64% to 57% of all parades in Northern Ireland!
Bands have also been given almost one million pounds as well we are told. Again what’s omitted from that statement is more important than the figure. I don’t think I even have to dissect this one in depth, but a few facts: – 1/ the ‘bands’ funding is open to ALL marching bands from any community. That money hasn’t all went to bands primarily of Unionist identity. 2/ In terms of the scale of the sector and the timescale over which the grants were issued, the amount is paltry. 3/ the grant in question has been cut on an annual basis. 4/ In comparison to primarily Nationalist sporting and cultural organisations such as the GAA, the amount is totally and utterly insignificant.
Where does that all leave the conclusion that Loyalist and Unionist Culture ISN’T under threat?
The whole piece is partial reportage of facts accompanied by innuendo in order to make a politically motivated point. The number of parades hasn’t really changed and the ‘grants’ that have been awarded are close to insignificant (if anything it makes it clear by virtue of the movements scale that bands should have vastly more designated funding opened).
Band membership has though increased. It’s clear as day why. People are joining bands and forming bands BECAUSE they feel their culture is under threat. Whether it is or not is for another post, but one thing’s for sure, propaganda and manipulation of facts like the report last night won’t alleviate the belief that it is. The exact polar opposite- it has enforced it.