Halloween homecoming a welcome damp squib…

UNFORTUNATELY, I didn’t see Mark’s offer to go walkabout yesterday morning, although it seems we took remarkably similar routes. A mixture of curiousity and convenience took me to have a nosey at the Eirigi protest, where 200-odd republicans took part in an illegal march up to police lines at the edge of the city centre. What struck me most was how closely this republican protest resembled the Orange Order parades that were banned in the late 90s – the rows of Landrovers, the cops in ninja gear, the officer in charge reading out the ban, the flag-waving supporters, the hardline speeches read over a dodgy PA and so on. Switch the Tricolours for Union flags, and it could’ve been a scene from the Drumcree era. The ritual is almost identical for both sides. Despite the fiery rhetoric, this time nothing more than angry words were hurled. Here’s a brief clip, and there’s pics below the fold.

The first face I recognised from the crowd was Colin Duffy, a veteran Lurgan republican who’s something of a hate figure for unionists, as was this man, Brendan McKenna (second pic), better known as the spokesman for the Garvaghy Road residents, who oppose the Drumcree march. It would be hard to imagine two men who are more detested by unionists, though they obviously have support closer to home.

Perhaps it’s the credibility within republicism people like these two have that worries Sinn Fein, as both were previously part of the mainstream republican (ie Sinn Fein) movement, but now clearly choose to side with hardline dissidents on SF’s left flank. I have a feeling that Eirigi’s decision to hold this protest had great influence on Sinn Fein’s decision-making process since the Royal Irish homecoming was first announced.

The speech by former SF national organiser Brian Leeson was a mirror image of one unionist dissident Jim Allister could give – a traditional republican voice railing against those who have ‘compromised their principles for power’. Both police and protesters remained calm, and there was little overt provocation. This was the scene outside Millfield College while Eirigi stood at the police lines and journalists like Fionnuala O’Connor looked on.

Shortly afterwards, the protesters just turned and walked back up the road. A couple of hours after these two pics were taken, there wasn’t a single trace of anything that had happened, and the road was even quieter than normal.

I than wandered into town, but there was little to be seen by that point, although I heard a firework go off. It felt a bit like the Twelfth with millies milling around wrapped in Union flags around Church House and the low hoodie to first-time-moustache ratio, but towards City Hall there were more people who looked like they had dressed up for the occasion, more older people, and I saw one or two veterans wearing medals. I doubt they even realised there was bother.


Like the earlier protest, there was some tension in the air, but the trouble must have been very localised and over extremely quickly. Obviously, any violence or intimidation was wrong and stupid, but one arrest and a few missiles thrown in a crowd of 30,000 in the city centre isn’t bad going at the best of times. The crowd was similar to what you might expect for an outdoor music festival, and I’d imagine that Eventsec would be happy with that level of violence. So in terms of crowd control, I guess the PSNI can feel pleased with their organisation.

However, Mark’s video of loyalists walking the route and being clapped is, frankly, an embarrassment. If they were representing paramilitary groups, they were trying to equate thuggish and sectarian terrorism with the Army. Watching them, I doubt if they convinced anyone that they were doing anything other than piggybacking on an event they had no right to interfere with. A parade of chavs.

However, I heard the Secretary of State on the radio earlier, and while he has reason to be happy, he shouldn’t kid himself that this kind of event can happen peacefully without a huge security operation and behind-the-scenes negotiations. While nearly everyone was on their best behaviour, it didn’t come cheap and there was still a lot of stuff bubbling very close to the surface yesterday. I bet everyone’s glad they don’t have to put that much effort into everything they do.

  • Ann

    it didn’t come cheap

    No doubt Gonzo the amount will be revealed in a couple of days, but am wondering where the money will come from? I read a while back that it cost the tax payer £2,900 for a two hour visit from Gordon Brown, when he did his tour of Britain not so long ago.

    With no executive sitting, and money needed in all areas, and threats that even the over 60’s could lose their entitlement to free transport, how will this extra finance for policing yesterday be found?

  • Ann

    Sorry I think that should be £29,000

  • Carson’s Cat

    “but am wondering where the money will come from?”

    It will come from the Policing budget – which is outside of the block grant for running the NI Government Departments.

    “money needed in all areas, and threats that even the over 60’s could lose their entitlement to free transport, how will this extra finance for policing yesterday be found?”

    That is actually a very good question and one which those who are in a big hurry to have policing & justice devolved need to answer. Those people who want policing and justice powers devolved to Northern Ireland immediately need to ask what other services they’re prepared to cut in order to fund things like police overtime etc.

    One of the big reasons people like the DUP have given for wanting to ensure everything is in place prior to devolution is the estimated £500 million which needs to be in place to fund policing.

    From where I was standing the parade was extremely peaceful with mainly families and quite a few older people waiting to see the troops pass by. Those people who i was talking to who were nearer church house said the ‘trouble’ seemed to be from about a dozen people at most and definitely shouldn’t mar the fact that well over 50,000 other people were there to peacefully welcome home our troops.

  • Carson’s Cat

    Oh, and just an aside.

    Despite his big writeup in the Newsletter this morning of his “support for the troops” I hear that Reg Empey actually thought going on holidays was more important than being in Belfast yesterday.

    Also, uber rentaquote Jim Rodgers was in the Irish Republic, having failed to travel back in time for a football match.

    Nice.

  • Carson’s Cat

    That should read
    “having faied to travel back in time from a football match”……

  • harry

    old man adams pushed to the side streets looking on helpessly as robinson looking like a latter day Carson surveys his passing troops in front of their city hall. it could have been 1912.

    gerry has led sinn fein into a cul de sac. as effective as the old nationalist party in stormont, perhaps only a wild birds act 2009 will be the only thing sf can hope for.

    its back to the drawing board for republicans.

  • William

    Belfast Gonzo….don’t worry about missing the ‘citizen journalist’ [mike’s description] with the Plantation name and his walkabout yesterday…..his mate Gerry shot an up in the air video and sure the back of your head might have appeared in it and everyone would have seen the bald spot.

    Hope you enjoyed your trip….

  • reality check

    “The speech by former SF national organiser Brian Leeson was a mirror image of one unionist dissident Jim Allister could give – a traditional republican voice railing against those who have ‘compromised their principles for power’.”

    That’s a nice narrative of the two extremes aping each other, except for one inconvenient fact – Brian Leeson said nothing of the sort yesterday.
    In fact, in the speech I heard him give, there wasn’t a single mention of Sinn Féin.
    Belfast Gonzo is so wrapped up in the political parameters of debate defined by others that he is pathetically incapable of even realying accurately what he heard someone else say.

  • George

    Carson’s Cat,
    Also, uber rentaquote Jim Rodgers was in the Irish Republic, having failed to travel back in time from a football match.

    If you saw the regal treatment Mr Rodgers gets in Cork when he visits, you would fully understand why he failed to travel back in time. Cut the man some slack….

  • IRIA

    “200-ODD republicans”. Play the ball!!

  • Carson’s Cat

    George
    “If you saw the regal treatment Mr Rodgers gets in Cork when he visits, you would fully understand why he failed to travel back in time.”

    I couldn’t care less how well the people of Cork like the oul mouthpiece. He obviously has his own priorities, just like Empey.

    At least Empey was getting some sunshine for missing the parade I suppose though.

  • bollix

    do you have to have a video or camera to either be on a parade or stop a parade these days?

  • Caoimhín83

    Can any body tell me Éirígí’s objectives and the strategy by which they intend to achieve this.
    I can see why there are objections to the Sinn Féin leadership but unfortunately for the life of me I can’t figure out what Éirígí intend to do about it.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    Initially when I first heard of Éirígí and saw the star logo I thought they were the Irish equivalent of Texaco. Great branding lads!

  • Modernist

    Out of interest I noticed the photetic spelling of ‘clear the way’ in Irish on the flag. Is that the RIR motto. Anyone know the history of it if it is?

  • Ulsters my homeland

    Faugh a ballagh (clear the way) is definately a sore point in the republican movement. They can’t stop their Green language being used to support British troups, so what’s the next step? Maybe Gaelic? go-on!

  • Harry Flashman

    “Out of interest I noticed the photetic spelling of ‘clear the way’ in Irish on the flag. Is that the RIR motto. Anyone know the history of it if it is?”

    This from Wiki:

    [i]Faugh a ballagh (also written Faugh-a-ballagh) is a battle cry of Irish origin, meaning “clear the way”. The spelling is an 18th-century anglicization of the Irish-language words Fág an bealach. Its first recorded use as a regimental motto was by the Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1798. It remains the motto of the Royal Irish Regiment today.

    It was adopted due to the blood curdling battle-cry of Sergeant Patrick Masterson as he tore into the French ranks, with Ensign Keogh, to capture the first French Imperial Eagle to be taken in battle – during the Battle of Barossa. He was then heard to cry ‘Be Jabers Boys! I have the Cuckoo!’ as he held it triumphantly aloft to rouse the spirits of his men. Alas, Ensign Keogh did not survive the daring dash into the French ranks.

    It was popularized outside of Ireland by the Irish Brigade – composed of the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry (NYVI) or “Fighting 69th”, the 63rd & 88th NYVI, and later the 116th Pennsylvania and 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantries – which fought in the American Civil War. The motto was also adopted by the 55th Battalion of the Australian 5th Division during the First World War.[/i]

    Like Lillibulero and Garryowen it’s a Gaelic expression that has long been used by Irish loyalists.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable
  • Concerned Observer

    Wait a minute.
    The Royal Irish Regiment uses a gaelic slogan and yet the DUP will not allow an act to promote the language in the province.
    When will the DUP end their discrimination against the British people of Northern Ireland?