‘If ever there was a political statement…’

Belfast Gonzo and Mark McGregor have given their takes on yesterday’s march; one thought Belfast Gonzo’s observations raises in his comparisons to Drumcree is this being Republicanism’s last stand. Read Anthony McIntyre’s commentary.

  • Driftwood

    The soldiers interviewed on UTV and BBC tonight said they didn’t even know there was a protest. Just about summed the protest up. The body language of Adams, Storey, Duffy etc told the tale. Anthony McIntyre seems to think it was an RIR victory parade. It featured three Irish Regiments of the British Army and the RN and RAF. They all shared in the victory here, not just the RIR.

  • kenseo

    Either SF or the dissidents probably could have provoked violence if they were so inclined. I am unsure exactly what they could have achieved. At the height of the Troubles the only reason this might have been blocked was security concerns, but they could still have possibly attempted it; regardless it wouldn’t change the underlying reality of British rule. Protests forced changes to the planned parade. The point that a lot of people here are unhappy with the British presence was forcefully made.

    There was no parade in Derry. Or in any other number of Nationalist controlled councils. With sufficient electoral strength Nationalism could have stopped the parade in Belfast — and maybe, given the response, the Alliance might think twice before backing another. Or at a minimum cause a lot more restrictions at an early level.

    Thems the rules of the game that were agreed and it wasn’t all one way traffic. I would like to hear an alternative if McIntyre has one.

  • Driftwood

    Just out of curiosity, if a formal RAF flypast City Hall is arranged for a later date. (Informal training flights by Tornadoes are rare but routine.) What, if anything, can any republican do to prevent it? Given that it comes under MoD remit, and no permission required.

    There is a recent thread about poppies. While most nationalists will probably not remember, does anyone remember ‘Wings’ day when you could get a paper wing badge, or IF you could afford a shilling, a plastic RAF blue wings badge, seen as a ‘badge of honour’ in my school playground. Appears to have disappeared across the UK. Giving my age away here.

  • Reader

    While I enjoy Anthony McIntyre putting the metaphorical boot into Sinn Fein’s spin and authoritarianism, he does seem to have missed the main points here:
    Firstly, looking at the numbers involved, the whole business of the British Army in Belfast clearly matters more to unionism than to either wing of Republicanism. That’s a step aside from the old zero sum game. A canny negotiator could take advantage of that while the DUP are busy gloating. But does SF have any canny negotiators left?
    So that’s the opportunity for republicanism. But here’s the risk: If the Brits don’t screw up, nationalism could get very used to the status quo – even if it is a political vacuum. Sinn Fein lost its momentum a year ago. Now it looks as though they are lacking traction too.
    Anthony McIntyre, hankering after the excitement of the past, deriding people he sees as careerist sellouts, and looking for an unconditional surrender, has missed seeing the real opportunity and the real risk.

  • ??

    There was no parade in Derry. Or in any other number of Nationalist controlled councils. With sufficient electoral strength Nationalism could have stopped the parade in Belfast—and maybe, given the response, the Alliance might think twice before backing another. Or at a minimum cause a lot more restrictions at an early level……..

    so much for a share future and ireland of equals.

  • Brian Walker

    Anthony McIntyre has an interesting take there on parity of esteem.

    “The Irish Army, if it sought to and was backed by Sinn Fein, would not be allowed to march through the country’s second largest city when it returns from peace keeping duties abroad. If there really was parity of esteem why would it not? It’s the unionists, stupid.”
    This is far too dismissive. True enough about the Irish army but deliberately or not, he misunderstands the context in which parity operates. It’s nonsense to claim that one identity is somehow superior to another. Both are equally good. But that esteem operates within the terms of the Union as agreed and enacted. The Good Friday Agreement affirms:

    “ that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities.”

    Do the “identity and ethos” of the nationalist community embrace the IRA? It’s a very interesting question. Under parity of esteem would the IRA Old Comrades Association have the same “right” to march in front of the City Hall as the British Army? Or at some future date, the fully disarmed UDA, UVF or UFF Chums? You might say so. But Mr Adams might say No, for if I heard him correctly yesterday he said it was disgraceful for the British Army to parade in “ an Irish town.. the second largest in this country.” Not much parity of esteem for the other identity there. Or else, if the British Army doesn’t have that right, then by his own logic neither has the IRA under the same “parity of esteem.”

    I believe this is not a matter on which the State will wish to arbitrate any more. The fact that the IRA was and still is illegal is probably irrelevant by now. Under parity of esteem they could march as old comrades provided they pass the test of the Parades Commission just like the British Army. Under what law could they be stopped and who in their right minds would enforce it?

    But parity of esteem does not mean parity of everything. Like the right to observe the laws of the Republic in Northern Ireland, or to pay tax to the Revenue Commissioners rather than HMRC, or to benefit from the Republic’s health insurance system rather than the NHS. Or to send your public representatives to the Parliament of your choice ( but now you’re getting there, republicans might say).

    Both citizenships are certainly “equal” but they operate within the range of the state as declared and enacted after the GFA. Overarching the GFA , the sovereignty of Parliament still applies, however much republicans may wish it away. It was that same sovereignty that enables “the equality agenda”.

    It would be unfortunate if parity of esteem became the new cant phrase or the cry of a new victimhood. That wise man Maurice Hayes well described its relevance to yesterday’s events in the Irish Independent:

    “ If parity of esteem is to mean anything, it should allow people to express themselves and their values in their own way, within the bounds of decency and public order. Sinn Fein were the chief proponents of this approach, seeking protection for the values and traditions of nationalists and republicans. The corollary to this is that unionists are entitled to their expressions of cultural identity too, including their Britishness.”

  • William

    Re: No parade in ‘Derry…not yet…however, it isn’t necessary to have the permission of the local Council to have a parade. I and other ex-service members are currently organising a welcome home parade for our soldiers and hope that it will be before Christmas. The only thing that is stopping us getting a confirmed date is the operational duties of the RIR and other regiments that serviced with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • runciter

    Brian Walker,

    You appear to be arguing simultaneously that the ‘parity of esteem’ does not apply (it would be unacceptable for the Irish army to parade through Belfast) and that it does apply (it protects the parade as an “expression of cultural identity”).

    Could it be that you are prepared to accept any argument (and any inconsistency) as long as it supports the unionist viewpoint?

  • latcheeco

    Driftwood,
    What victory was everybody celebrating? What victory are you refering to? Were the chaps off somewhere on adventures of derring-do other than Afghanistan and Iraq? Oh you mean they’ve rescued Ballymena from the shi’ites! I get it now.

  • latcheeco

    Brian,
    Maurice’s bread has always been buttered by the British government so his attempts to justify his contribution to himself in his sunset years must be taken with a pinch of salt by nationalists. However,it all depends what you see as decency. If the British army killed somebody (say a child by plastic bullet for example) belonging to me and brutally occupied my country I wouldn’t see their parades as decent (as offensive as that is to unionist and as obvious as the corollary is for republicans when they parade in contentious areas).The deal was that both sides pull back their armies and demilitarise was it not?This was buck stupid coat trailing by many unionists which was skillfully turned in places into a hatefest. Did Maurice accuse the organisers of being idiots for jeopardising his beloved GFA. This could easily have gone pear-shaped given the numbers involved and vacuum NI is in. Maurice is long enough in the tooth to remember Lenadoon. From a unionist perspective even, were there not more dignified ways of honoring the contributions of these young soldiers to their people and government without exposing the soldiers and their families to a billyboy sectarian farce? (I mean Jackie McD and crew and arrive to cheers and organisers want to be taken seriously that the intention was dignified). You didn’t have to be mystic meg to see what would (and what’s worse could) have happened so questions of real motivation for the parade arise.And are the MOD still not over being used as pawns by unionist politicians?

  • kensei

    ??

    so much for a share future and ireland of equals.

    The British Army is not a cultural institution. It also has a somewhat checkered history in these parts. If there ever is a United Ireland, no amount of “shared future” or “parity of esteem” will allow the British Army to occupy any part of Ireland. Private citizens would of course be free to join it, and free parade in whatever uniform they wish. Without weapons, or the aeroplanes, of course.

    But perhaps in this case SF might have bit really, really hard and left you to it if there had been any evidence of the DUP biting hard and swallowing some of the stuff we want. But the DUP can’t stomach any of it, so we get is parity of contempt.

    Brian

    Both citizenships are certainly “equal” but they operate within the range of the state as declared and enacted after the GFA.

    I had Irish citizenship in 1982 from the second I was born, and its writ ended at the border. That is not enough for “parity of esteem”. No, we can’t do the things you suggest. But I think it would be a mistake to think that the North is simply like anywhere else in the UK. Symbols that might be uncontentious elsewhere are heavily scaled back. Oaths go. Nationalism largely gets a veto over anything it doesn’t like, which is effectively a little piece of sovereignty of its own. And the Irish Government gets input. I don’t know if you’d class that last one as a small de facto transfer of sovereignty or not, but it undoubtedly has influence here.

    If this had have been brought up at Assembly level, the Nationalist veto almost certainly would have scuppered it. It short circuited that by working at a lower level, but this approach is not cost free: there is bugger all chance of the British Army parading West of the Bann. It is perhaps possible that a more conciliatory approach could produce that. But it would require movement on some things Unionism really wouldn’t like. So they use the advantages and force it through were they can over the the divisions. Is that the right long term approach, though?

  • Brian Walker

    runciter you make the fundamental mistake. I’ll try again. National sovereignty is nowadays a more flexible concept but it’s a delusion to think it doesn’t exist in NI at all, or if it does, somehow the sovereignty is Irish. You are confusing parity of esteem with dual sovereignty which doesn’t exist. Or perhaps you’ve adopted the Orwellian tactic that if you repeat a thing often enough you bring it about. The GFA provides a route to unity but measures of equality shouldn’t be seen as designed automatically to advance it, otherwise you risk jeopardising the gains. You can legislate for parity until you’re blue in the face but you need goodwill to make it fully meaningful.

    Parity of esteem or “the equality agenda” is a principle which operates within the state, that is, the territory where the relevant laws apply. It doesn’t operate in the Republic. If it did, an official human rights body would, say, monitor the appointment of Prods or unionists without a language qualification to official posts. Up to now there has been no demand to redress the imbalance between northern unionists and southern nationalists in public employment there.(Southern Prods are another matter.)

    In the case of armies, national sovereignty is probably least flexible. An Irish army parade might take place one day but only by invitation from the British State. It would be a nice idea.

    latcheeco, I don’t know where to begin to unpick that. This a minor classic of its kind, hinting at “the real motive,” depicting what happened as far worse than it was, still raging away. Sure the billyboys are wretched but the police did a good job and republicans seem to have behaved responsibly. Why can you ease off and lighten up?
    “Remember Lenadoon?” What a slogan for 2008! The Lenadoon I witnessed was when Seamus Twomwey.. oh never mind.

    I’m sure Maurice will bear your insult with equanimiity.

  • x

    Anthony McIntyre’s piece is interesting as he clearly cuts through most of the rhetoric and accepts the reality. The Good Firday Agreement secured the Union. Fair enough

    Where he goes slightly awry is in praising the DUP for successfully making Belfast City centre a Unionist zone on Sunday.

    The facts don’t support this interpretation, the DUP were unable to get the Counter demo out of Donegall Place, they failed to get the Parades Commission to ban it, in fact they were reduced – as usual to howling at the moon.

    The real victors on Sunday were the ordinary people of the Shankill Road. They made it clear they weren’t having the city centre taken over by republicans. Their parade into the city centre clearly would have confronted the Sinn fein protest and so faced with Shankil Road loyalists – Sinn Fein blinked.

    While Anthony McIntyre may see Robinson as the man in charge, clearly on Sunday Robo was lucky – the Shankill was taking no nonsense!

  • kensei

    Brian

    In the case of armies, national sovereignty is probably least flexible. An Irish army parade might take place one day but only by invitation from the British State. It would be a nice idea.

    That may be true, but there is absolutely no need for the British Army to parade in Belfast in order to discharge its duties. It mattered to sovereignty only in the sense that the assertion about it Unionism wanted to make.

  • Brian Walker

    kensei, I think you’ve framed the debate. I’ve tried to unpick some of the stuff. I accept that the parade may look like unionist triumphalism, where every expression of a British identity can be treated as a throw in the zero sum game. The suggestion of a parade would have looked very different from Whitehall; hard to grant, hard to refuse.

    Yet I suggest to you that this was mainly a benign assertion of identity – a point made by the Irish Times- where most people simply wanted to join in with fellow citizens across the water.
    Most would have deplored the loyalist billyboys and would ask for that to be understood. ( SF plainly did understand).It implied no more agreement with loyalist paramilitaries than a 1916 commemoration implies support for the IRA.

    It’s true that the British army has a much more recent and direct legacy than the men and women of 1916. I note that in debate, unionists would ask for the distinction to be made that everybody understands, that there is a difference between the disbanded ex-UDR home battalions and the ex-RIR battalions who never served in NI. They would not accept of course that the British Army were responsible for all ills during the Troubles but that’s another branch of the debate.

    Both sides have a lot to prove before they win trust. The top players know the score and staking out an implacable position over army parades is not fruitful ground on which to stand.

    You will disagree but I think the parade was just about ok in terms of community relations. The decision would have envisaged a functioning Assembly. In the event it must have been tempting to call it off or restrict it to a church service. Had the Executive not been in deadlock I doubt if a SF demo- at least a contemporaneous one- would have been held at all. And I do remember a hunger strike commemoration passing by the City Hall entirely peacefully years ago, in the days before a parades commission. Mutual tolerance aint easy but it’s achievable – if that’s what people want more than victory.

  • kensei

    Brian

    kensei, I think you’ve framed the debate. I’ve tried to unpick some of the stuff. I accept that the parade may look like unionist triumphalism, where every expression of a British identity can be treated as a throw in the zero sum game. The suggestion of a parade would have looked very different from Whitehall; hard to grant, hard to refuse.

    Brian, this is not “any expression of British identity”. It’s the British Army parading through the streets of Belfast against the wishes of every Nationalist representative on the council. It isn’t like an Orange march. It is about as triumphalist as you get. 300 people killed at their hands through the Troubles, countless and unknown more minor violations.

    Yet I suggest to you that this was mainly a benign assertion of identity – a point made by the Irish Times- where most people simply wanted to join in with fellow citizens across the water.
    Most would have deplored the loyalist billyboys and would ask for that to be understood. ( SF plainly did understand).It implied no more agreement with loyalist paramilitaries than a 1916 commemoration implies support for the IRA.

    And? Who cares about loyalist paramilitaries, the British Army have done enough damage here on their own. I can appreciate why people are doing it, and I do sympathise with some of those reasons, but they sticking their heads deep in the sands if they thought they could just impose this without reaction.

    It’s true that the British army has a much more recent and direct legacy than the men and women of 1916. I note that in debate, unionists would ask for the distinction to be made that everybody understands, that there is a difference between the disbanded ex-UDR home battalions and the ex-RIR battalions who never served in NI. They would not accept of course that the British Army were responsible for all ills during the Troubles but that’s another branch of the debate.

    I am sure they would ask for the distinction, but I don’t believe they would get it it. A British Army soldier is a British Army soldier. The symbolism is precisely the same: one represents them all. It might not be quite as inflammatory as parading the Paras but we ain’t say much here. What next – we can parade the IRA, but it’s okay, it’s South Antrim not Belfast?

    Both sides have a lot to prove before they win trust. The top players know the score and staking out an implacable position over army parades is not fruitful ground on which to stand.

    Unionist provoked, at a period where they’ve been quite content to hammer home advantages with any degree of magnanimity. In this context acquiesce is the same as being walked over and it only encourages more. No.

    You will disagree but I think the parade was just about ok in terms of community relations. The decision would have envisaged a functioning Assembly.

    Bollocks. This was a DUP-sponsored thing in the council at a point where it became clear things were not functioning.

    In the event it must have been tempting to call it off or restrict it to a church service. Had the Executive not been in deadlock I doubt if a SF demo- at least a contemporaneous one- would have been held at all.

    I’m sure you do. But the same political pressures re the Dissidents apply, I would still have heard members of my family complain SF weren’t doing enough to stand up to this type of thing.

    And I do remember a hunger strike commemoration passing by the City Hall entirely peacefully years ago, in the days before a parades commission. Mutual tolerance aint easy but it’s achievable – if that’s what people want more than victory.

    Not the same thing. The council didn’t arrange an official function for them, spending my blimmin’ money. They weren’t initially planned to be armed and have a flyover, either.

  • gn

    I think it would be very interesting if someone could do a joint review of Antony McIntyre’s book with David Vance’s book.

    It would interesting, obviously they cant both be right.

    Vance, victory for republicans.

    McIntyre, victory for unionists.

  • Reader

    kensei: Not the same thing. The council didn’t arrange an official function for them, spending my blimmin’ money.
    But most of the Sluggerites who were inclined to complain suggested that there should be no march, just a private reception.

  • kensei

    Reader

    But most of the Sluggerites who were inclined to complain suggested that there should be no march, just a private reception.

    I’m not sure that all of them were suggesting it should be an official rather than party function; regardless it costs less money. My rates aren’t the only reason of course, but it does grate.

  • latcheeco

    Brian,
    Thanks for the reply .I’d imagine he’d probably treat it with the same equanimity he considered nationalist grievances when the British army were at their worst in the pravince and he was working away happily in their pockets.Forgive the Lenadoon/Horn Drive reference and thanks for the compliment. It was an imperfect allusion rather than a slogan and perhaps hyperbollic but as far as I could see there were quite a lot of people there on Sunday still living in the early 1970’s so perhaps it’s not so outlandish.I don’t think you’re out of the woods yet given the irreconcilable, visceral communal hated on display by the lower orders so by all means be smug and condescending about the security of the new dispensation and the ridiculousness of my suggestion.My point was that many unionists would love to be off the GFA hook and sometimes for want of a nail the battle is lost. The parade/eirigi clearly put G and co. on the back foot and made them react. Many would contend that that was the primary motivation for the parade.That’s why I think the whole idea was buck stupid, or deliberately provocative,or both.Like many unionists your interpretation of the ceasefire deal seems to be a return to a pre1969 colony but with happy taigs where everybody gets along. I’d suggest the reality is that its a pause for breath by both camps. As regards being relaxed, I’m good 🙂 I’ll lighten up when Ireland’s free and people no longer have to put up with that disgusting prejudiced frightening xenophobic intimidating nonsense in their own country anymore 🙂

  • runciter

    runciter you make the fundamental mistake.

    I’ll repeat my point for the sake of clarity.

    The two positions:

    1. “parity of esteem” does not apply to military parades, and

    2. “parity of esteem” protects military parades from criticism

    are logically inconsistent.

    Attempting to adopt both positions at once implies either a peculiar blindness or a lack of integrity.

  • Sertin

    “The Irish Army, if it sought to and was backed by Sinn Fein, would not be allowed to march through the country’s second largest city when it returns from peace keeping duties abroad. If there really was parity of esteem why would it not? It’s the unionists, stupid.”

    I question this. The RoI army marching in Belfast is not and should not be an impossibility. After all, contingents from both the British and RoI armies marched together on the streets of Paris on Bastille Day.
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=jWh3GGOwhkI

    Perhaps what we should be aiming for is a situation where it is not impossible for BOTH the RoI army to march in Belfast and the RIR or other British regiments to be able to march on the streets of Dublin.

    Isn’t that where we want to end up, or am I just mad?