Parade resolution a story of leadership & home truths needing to be told

The Crumlin Road parade dispute has been resolved, and central to the resolution was a decision by mainstream republicans to push their own constituency to the limit at a time when not doing anything would have provided them, at face value, with precisely the same outcome that they have achieved.

On yesterday’s BBC1 Sunday Politics, I prefaced my comments with the observation that GARC spokesman were right to state that the return parade was essentially a thing of the past and, without this intervention, would never have happened.

There are many reasons for that.

The antics of loyalists, acting with unionist politicians as cheerleaders, has ensured that the Orange Order were in a hole they appeared incapable of finding a way out of on their own.

The initial violence around the parade, the criminally reckless decision to conceive of the Twaddell Camp, siting it at the interface, organizing nightly parades, erecting flags right up to the place where the two communities meet all contributed to the poisoning of relationships, further cementing the ad hoc deal that had evolved of permitting a series of morning parades but the end of evening return parades. This deal had the added incentive of seeming to be workable and enforceable in a way that the loyalist demand to march for the second time in a given day past the same Catholic-owned homes clearly was not. And that’s before we factor in that a young girl almost lost her life on the 12th July last year in a pending court case that will see a local Orange Order figure facing serious charges.

The ill-conceived Graduated Response strategy from political unionism from July 2014 was a reckless stunt, an example of the shockingly poor leadership too often provided from unionist politicians when faced with such grassroots disputes.

In the face of all of that, this was an extraordinarily generous offer from CARA, the Sinn Fein supported residents’ group, an unprecedented example of a protagonist party to a bitter local dispute deciding to help their embittered foe out of a hole.

And, let’s be very clear about the deal that has been agreed.

In return for the one and done parade facilitated on Saturday morning, a series of morning parades by loyalists will not be opposed throughout the year in return for the decisive ending of all evening return parades. Securing a cast iron guarantee (the ‘moratorium’) from loyalist organisations that none will even seek to apply for return parades was required to empower CARA and mainstream republicans to make the difficult case to facilitate the one-off return parade.

Whilst some within the Loyal Orders appear incapable of learning the harsh Twaddell lesson, there have been calls from elsewhere for unionist politicians to step up to the plate and provide the necessary leadership to guide the Orange Order and ensure they begin learning from their experiences. In Saturday’s Irish News, Newton Emerson noted how this parade deal owed “nothing to mainstream unionist leadership” in contrast to how Sinn Fein had “stood up to dissidents.”

Alas, listening to Deputy Grand Master Spencer Beattie return the needle to the start of the Orange song illustrates just why the failure of unionist politicians to take the hard decisions and make the unpopular stand left loyalism metaphorically lost in that Twaddell caravan for the past three years. That republicans decided to reach out the hand to help them out of their mess is not lost on anyone, and nor should be how difficult and awkward that decision has and will continue to be for those who supported that deal.

The CARA offer was about taking the moral high ground, giving the Orangemen and unionists a way out. It has succeeded in cementing an ad hoc deal which not only ends the local parading dispute but, crucially, also denies dissident republicans an annual occasion in which they can agitate for support over a legitimate grievance from the prominent platform they had developed locally.

The heckling of senior Sinn Fein figures by those associated with GARC was, perhaps, to be expected, but the decision to target Fr Gary Donegan for his public endorsement of this deal was a significant mistake by those opposed to the deal. Fr Gary walked with the young girls of Holy Cross Girls’ school and their parents when they faced the nightmare of the bitter school blockade in 2001 (as he recalled in this BBC interview today), and he has worked passionately in the local community for parishioners throughout his time in the area, developing a well-earned reputation as a moral leader and guide for people within and beyond Ardoyne, of all faiths and none.

Ironically, facing the now vacant caravan site on the Woodvale Road at the Twaddell roundabout is the Houben Centre, the realization of a dream by the Passionists of Holy Cross, of which Fr Gary is a member, to build a community hub which can reach beyond the interface and bring together the divided working-class peoples of this part of north Belfast.

When the building was designed, it was decided to site an entrance on the loyalist side of the divide at the Woodvale Road as well as the nationalist side in order to encourage the perception that it could belong to all communities. The building is home to the R City Coffee restaurant, a joint social enterprise by young adults from the Hammer YC in the lower Shankill and Ardoyne YC, and many of these same young adults have been involved in the Belfast 2 Blanco project, travelling together to the South African township to carry out charity work.

Resolving the parading dispute in a manner that has allowed space for healing and reconciliation should only be the beginning, and the work of the new forum to be established should focus on cultivating existing and forging new partnerships and relationships across what has been the most sensitive sectarian interface in the north of Ireland.

On this occasion, fortune appears to have favoured the brave.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Except, you were alleging the OO was a supporter of paramilitary violence in the same way SF was. The bits and pieces I cited are just a few of the holes one can find in that fairly silly statement.

    Prof Kaufmann at Birkbeck is a serious, well-respected academic who has looked in detail at the Orange Order and writes widely about ethnicity and identity in modern Britain. Somewhat more credible than Gerry Adams in terms of credentials and (peer-reviewed) ability to sift the wheat from the chaff intellectually.

    I know you’re not listening anyway but it ought to make you at least think twice about your characterisation of the OO as no better than a paramilitary group. I get that you don’t like them and that’s fine. But stop trying to magic your own views into some kind of objective truth about all that the OO is. And you’re still not explaining why we are expected to tolerate SF at the heart of public life but not the OO. Can’t help but think a hefty dose of partisanship as at play here 🙂 And that doesn’t get you to a fair answer to this kind of question.

  • billypilgrim1

    I daresay you are right about that.

    I’m comforted at least by the fact that in my lifetime I have witnessed the Orange Order being greatly diminished in its size and its power. Though I am conscious too of the fact that it has always waxed and waned throughout its existence. It’s a good, healthy thing to see the OO in its present, thankfully pathetic state, but it would be complacent to assume its condition is terminal.

  • billypilgrim1

    Amen to all of that.

  • billypilgrim1

    I don’t claim that the OO is a supporter of paramilitary violence in the same way SF was. I say that the OO was and is a supporter of paramilitary violence in a slightly different way to the way SF supported the IRA. SF was much more honest and much less hypocritical about it.

    In terms of whether the OO is “no better than a paramilitary group” – our society has been blighted by many paramilitary groups during the almost quarter of a millennium the OO has been in existence. Few of them have lasted very long, in comparison with the OO.

    I would tentatively say that none of them has wrought quite so much damage as the OO has, and I would categorically state that none has sown such hatred or done nearly so much to make our divisions intractable, as the OO.

    Paramilitary groups are like trauma wounds to our body politic. The Orange Order is more like cancer.

    And the reason we have to tolerate SF at the heart of public life is their democratic mandate. No other reason.

  • Thomas Girvan

    I would not have identified myself as being superior based upon a ‘colonizer (sic) culture’.
    There may be many reasons why I could claim superiority, but that would not be one of them.
    That is not for me to judge, being, as it is, purely subjective.


    Oh don’t worry there are still between 35-40,000 members and it will continue to exist long into the future. Hopefully in a calm and peaceful northern Ireland accepted as part of wider society by all. Maybe even with changes in some of its rules and regulations Billy ???? good luck you you anyway.

  • woodkerne

    Not sure if you’d regard the OED as a sufficiently objective source, in use of the ‘Oxford z’, that is? For the record, ‘positional superiority’ isn’t equivalent in meaning to ‘being superior’. Rather, it is a question of presumptive authority, deriving from the prevailing interests in any given age, as one might say if situated in pedants’ corner!

  • billypilgrim1

    I too hope for a calm and peaceful future here in northern Ireland. I just think the Orange Order is a threat to that peace and calm. It always has been. It has always gone out of its way to stir up sectarian hatred. It has always been the enemy of peace and calm. To the extent that it has power, it always will be.

    I honestly don’t know why you think the OO should be “accepted as part of wider society” – it is a menace to society.

    But I wish you all the best too, on a personal level if not an institutional one. We can at least disagree civilly. As I say, any Orangeman I’ve ever known, and I’ve known a good few, has been a gentleman.

  • Thomas Girvan

    I think you may be concurring with me regarding the subjectivity of your assertion that I have some form of positional superiority. However I cannot be unequivocally incontrovertible given your propensity towards Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, that is a predilection by yourself to engage in the manifestation of prolix exposition through a buzzword disposition form of communication notwithstanding the availability of more comprehensible, punctiliously applicable, diminutive alternatives.

  • woodkerne

    Sophisticated vocabulary. Cack syntax. You’ll be quoting Shakespeare at me next.

  • Áine

    None of us, well I don’t anyway, have a crystal ball so we all make decisions with the hope is that there will be a desired outcome. Indeed we make decisions without knowing their ramifications 100%, otherwise none would be made.
    CARA as the residents group made the decision supported by SF who receive the largest mandate in the area.
    I suspect your problem with the decision is because of your animosity to SF.
    If there had been huge disagreement from the residents of the area with the decision, indeed with CARA maing that decision, I believe you would have seen more than 100 locals (half there were not from the area) at the GARC rally on Friday night.

  • grumpy oul man

    Oh yes false promises, then hands washed when they didn’t need them anymore.

  • grumpy oul man

    Yes SF was the political wing of SF, after that you tend go go off track.
    You seem to be unaware that firstly many dissidents came from the IRSP not SF and the younger ones were not around when the IRA was.
    perhaps your lumping together of all republicans in one big family owes more to the Unionists scare story of a pan nationalist front (which never existed).


    They are full of false promises

  • Jollyraj

    “Yes SF was the political wing of SF”

    Hmmm…. meaningless, as ever.

    If you’re trying to say that SF mainly exists to serve the interests of SF then, yes, I’d agree with that.

  • grumpy oul man

    “Yes SF was the political wing of SF”

    Hmmm…. meaningless, as ever.
    Well it was really just a copy of your statement! and if you say it is a meaningless statement, then who am I to argue with you 😉

  • Jollyraj

    I see where you’re going with that – the IRA and SF were/are essentially the same thing, hmm? I think you’re right.

  • grumpy oul man

    No what i was getting at is your the one who made a statement then said it was meaningless, and I think its a pity you don’t comment on your own utterances more often!