Twelfth Thoughts

Another Twelfth gone, several more families across the North looking for new places to live and others cleaning up after their homes were targeted; members of Orange Lodges, Hibernians and GAA members picking up the pieces after more attacks; church congregations in fear that the return of attacks on their places of worship will bring a return to the bad old days. Oh, and the inevitable rioting where the interfaces were infringed, with dissident republicans kicking into the open goal provided by the loyalist parade along the Crumlin Road in Belfast.
Alternatively, another Twelfth gone, another good family day’s outing for thousands, another year away from the Drumcree era plagued by violence surrounding Loyal Orders parades, Orangefest firmly established and promoted by public authorities and shops (some perhaps reluctantly) deciding to open in a sign of confidence that the future looks brighter.
Two distinctly different opinions on the 11th Night/ Twelfth proceedings, some reluctantly conceding evidence of the latter, others airbrushing distinct evidence of the former being linked to the contentious and provocative aspects of the annual Orange weekend.
First the positives.

The Twelfth celebrations clearly remain an integral part of unionist culture and it is clearly much larger for many from an Orange tradition than simply winding up the catholics. Like most traditions, it evokes happy memories of yesteryear, provides the occasion for renewing old acquaintances and can be thoroughly enjoyed by many without any malice of heart nor mind.

There is no question but that some within the loyalist/ unionist community are seeking a way to lift their community out of the destructive tendency to seek to identify themselves in relation to ‘the Other.’

The most provocative aspects of the Twelfth festivities relate to the 11th night bonfires, deliberate policy of erecting loyalist flags in mixed and nationalist areas, as well as the contentious routing of the parades.

On these fronts, there would appear to be some movement in relation to the first issue, though the ridiculous policy adopted by some in the mainstream media of concentrating primarily on the need to remove the environmentally damaging element of the bonfires (ie tyres) is an example of what Comrade Stalin has correctly identified in an earlier thread of the MSM going to considerable lengths to adhere to a narrative which sweeps under the carpet the poisonous sectarian dimension of loyalist culture- hence the BBC policy of not discussing those bands as they march by during the annual Love/ Smyth commentary on The Twelfth morning programme.

The annual Twelfth festivities illustrate the different stages the two communities are, broadly, in relation to accommodation and respect for the Other. Whether it is in relation to the flying of flags in mixed communities, parading through such communities or through seeking to identify one’s community in relation to the Other, Irish nationalists are a generation ahead of northern unionists, and narrowing the gap holds the key to developing a more stable, tolerant society based on equality and mutual respect.

Indeed, this has been reflected in the differing speeds with which both communities came to accept the premise of our future shared society- the Good Friday Agreement delivered a firm game, set and match from nationalism, whilst St. Andrew’s a decade later still hasn’t delivered a reciprocal level of support within unionism for a future based on sharing and equality, as the Allister vote and performance of a number of DUP Ministers to date illustrates (and wasn’t it depressing to see the DCAL Minister, Nelson McCausland, amongst those parading passed Ardoyne Shops. Clearly, Nelson knows his history: Faulkner had his Longstone, Paisley his Divis, Trimble his Garvaghy, and Nelson evidently wants to make the Ardoyne walk his own.)

Allison Morris made an insightful comment in yesterday’s Irish News when she compared the scenes at the Woodvale Park beacon on the 11th Night with an event during the early stages of the Feile an Phobail. Today, a generation after republicans took the initiative in leading their community out of a destructive means of celebrating identity, the Feile movement has never been stronger, with such festivals across nationalists areas of the north defined by their openness to others, albeit with events broadly indicating the organising community’s own political outlook. There is no tension surrounding such events, nor for that matter during other distinctly republican commemorations, simply due to the fact that republicans abide by the practice of organising such occasions in areas where the ‘Other’ community will not be directly affected, and flag flying in nationalist areas- never mind mixed communities- is at its lowest point in recent history.

Feile an Phobail will this year have a number of political platform discussions, in which loyalist leader, Jackie McDonald, and an unknown DUP representative will have the opportunity to air their views to a broadly republican audience. A play written by a former loyalist prisoner will also be performed as part of the Feile. Yet it remains as much a republican festival as the Twelfth is a unionist celebration.

Getting back to the Twelfth, the shift to beacons is important, but of considerably more importance is the need to end the policy of unionism/ loyalism seeking to identify itself in relation to nationalists by burning stolen Irish tricolours, election posters and other items daubed with hate-filled slogans. Progress on this front is slow and not without dissenters- the intra-loyalist feuding in Tiger’s Bay this week was said to be linked to some opposing the moves to beacons; for them, the local bonfire remained, with sickening gloats of catholics killed at Greysteel and Milltown Cemetery. But there are real signs of progress here, and I would single out the Woodvale 11th Night celebrations, which not only involved a beacon, but also banned the burning of the Irish National flag. Loyalist spokesman, Winston Irvine proudly pronounced that loyalists did not need to disrespect anybody else’s culture to celebrate their own. How right he is, and fair play to him for it.

The erection of flags remains a contentious matter, and will probably become more pronounced in years to come as a number of commentators have noted that loyalists seem to have adopted an orchestrated policy of seeking to ratchet up tensions through flag-flying- the Fortwilliam area of Belfast a case in point, though more interestingly, protestant displeasure with this loyalist practice was evident in Ballymena, Craigavon and Bangor this Summer.

As in the case of contentious parading, it is here that the Loyal Orders can intervene to make a significant contribution which could potentially transform the atmosphere and perceptions of an Orangefest in a manner that Freddie Mercury impersonators, face painters and opened shops can not.

Imagine were the Order to call for its supporters to refrain from seeking to offend others (including many protestants, who appear distinctly unimpressed by the avalanche of flags bedecking their areas) by erecting flags in mixed communities. Such an intervention would have a powerful impact on how the organisation is perceived, not least by nationalists, but perhaps more importantly by the broader protestant community, which should remain the primary target audience of an Orangefest celebration.

There should be no demand upon unionists to transform Orangefest- or the Twelfth weekend as a whole- into an all-inclusive event. Not only is it an unrealisable objective, it is also an exercise in dishonesty as, due to our divisive history and political-religious allegiances, it is stretching what is credible to expect nationalists to move past a less benign view of the entire proceedings to one of desiring to view events up close.

From the other side, suggesting it is inclusive is disingenuous. Take yesterday’s rather successful Twelfth as reported by our own Slugger reporters. Some banners commemorated loyalist paramilitaries, many bands were named after or carried the labels of loyalist organisations like the UDA/ UFF/ UVF, bonfires burned the Irish tricolours/ nationalist election posters/ and glorified the killing of catholics, some bandsmen marched with AFAB (All Fenians are Bastards) badges, bands march past catholic churches chanting the Billy Boys and the Sash. As one contributor put succinctly to Nelson McCausland on the Nolan Show this morning: “they want to kill us one day and they want us to join them the next.”

The Orange Order deserve their day in the sun, and it ill behoves nationalists and republicans, who ultimately desire these celebrations to be an expression of the minority culture in a united Ireland, to be dismissive of the importance of the Day for many unionists. Gerry Adams struck a right chord this morning when he prefaced his comments about the Twelfth on Radio Ulster by expressing condolences to the loyalist bandswoman tragically killed in Killyleagh, before pointing out that, whilst the Orange tradition needs and deserves to be respected, it must deal with the contentious parades which number but a few of its three thousand in total.

The Order and Unionist political leaders need to provide the type of enlightened leadership for the Orangemen that would see them deal convincingly with the unacceptable face of the annual weekend’s celebrations and remove the source of the antagonism and, as importantly, the platform for dissident republicans (Newt Emerson’s poser to the Loyal Orders some months ago remains as valid today as then.)

Ironically, progressive-minded unionists and nationalists should be united in wanting to resolve the aged problems associated with Loyal Order celebrations; for unionists, the type of long-term political accommodation in the Union they desire will require a level of support from within the Irish nationalist/ catholic community, and eradicating the explicitly sectarian aspect of Orange culture which seeks to provoke their neighbours annually can only be a positive development towards that over-arching political goal.

Similarly for nationalists and republicans, demonstrating a tolerance of the Orange culture is an important element of a political project aiming to promote a united Ireland, contrasting this tolerance with the lack of reciprocal tolerance of their own culture by Unionist leaders if needs dictate.

Of course, there is an alternative course of action, which requires everybody having the freedom to express and exercise their culture without boundaries. Many unionist- and Loyal Order- spokespersons often quote these rights as the basis for their demands for unfettered access to the Queen’s Highway, regardless of the sentiments of local residents.

But the actions of unionists clearly suggest that they are not ready- nor willing- to accept the reciprocal rights they demand being afforded to nationalists, and the fact that a man lies dead in Coleraine due to the appearance of an Irish National flag in the predominantly unionist town starkly emphasises the point. Imagine the furore were loyalist towns to play host to not just flags but Green arches, resplendent with republican flags and slogans, all of this the night after unionist posters and stolen loyalist flags adorned ratepayer-funded bonfires….

Consider also the response of political and paramilitary figures within unionism and loyalism the last time a republican parade was organised for a ‘unionist town-’ Ballymena. On that occasion, DUP MLA’s called on the parade to be banned on the basis that it was a ‘protestant‘ town (an interesting proposition which if applied consistently would see the end to Loyalist parading in Derry, Newry and many other towns and villages which hosted such parades yesterday.)

More seriously, the run up to the parade on that occasion witnessed an orchestrated loyalist campaign attacking catholic homes and properties across north Antrim, all of which points pretty decisively to a firm conclusion that loyalist communities would not entertain the notion of hosting the type of parades the Loyal Orders seek to annually impose on their neighbours.

This is an important point worth thrashing out because the most contentious parade yesterday, along the Crumlin Road in Belfast, has been justified by a number of Order spokesmen and Unionist politicians because they claim it is a main road which should be regarded as a ‘shared space.’ Gerry Kelly was quick to counter this claim by pointing out that unionists would simply not tolerate a republican parade from Legoniel to Ardoyne along the very same ‘shared’ road, and the fact that Nelson McCausland avoided replying to the challenge would indicate he agrees with the assertion.

Yet perhaps there is something in that very proposition which could potentially provide a new way of addressing this thorny problem by developing trust through affording mutual respect. What if loyalists facilitated a republican parade at Easter from Legoniel to Ardoyne in return for an Orange parade unhindered along the Crumlin Road in July?

  • Ulick

    Good blog Chris.

  • Paul

    I don’t know if this appropriate but its the funniest commentary on nIreland I have ever seen, its from a different site

    Welcome to the annual riot!

    My mother goes to those things every year just to see the fireworks – our kitchen is decorated with tacky “United we Stand” plates and Union Jacks and also with Gerry Adams posters. I think she’s trying to see if it will catch fire by itself…

    / our fridge has pictures of Ian Paisley, Osama BinL, Bush, Martin McGuinness and Elvis

    //when people ask me why I live in California now, I ask them how they spend July

  • Skintown Lad

    i’m a protestant and unionist and i agree with you, except obviously the bits where you generalise about unionists disagreeing with you.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Skintown Lad

    Sorry about the generalisations; I normally adhere strictly to references to ‘political leaders’ of Unionism, and did not mean to cause offence to you or others through the use of the term ‘unionists.’ I do, however, believe that in the round there is a communal mindset shift yet to take place within unionism towards acceptance of the legitimacy of the ‘Other’ community. That is largely a consequence of leaders not bringing ‘their’ people to the new understanding, something I’ve alluded to in the past.

    Of course it is a broad statement, as is somewhat necessary to convey the point, but I should have made clear it doesn’t apply to all unionists- or indeed nationalists regarding adherence to the basis of our new dispensation.

    And, let me be clear, I’m in no way suggesting catholics/ nationalists are not capable of exhibiting intolerance and bigotry: the last week has witnessed numerous examples of that on display.

    On Mick’s thread, Kensei has come up with a great phrase which I’ll shamelessly plagiarise here: the Orange Order hasn’t had its Clause 4 moment yet, and therein lays the key to unlocking the door to a better July for all of us in the years ahead.

  • Talefon

    One hell of a lot of words to say ‘usuns are soooo much better than themuns’. Hoist up on your own bigotry is not the same as standing on the moral high ground, although obviously you think it is.

    You are proof positive that the school holidays are too long.

  • fair_deal


    “the Orange Order hasn’t had its Clause 4 moment yet”

    Balls to be honest, clearly demonstrated this very week when the the head of the DUP sat down with Garvaghy residents and the Portadown District is going into talks with the Garvaghy residents and Parade Commission. This is an outworking of a Grand Lodge decision made about three years ago but as most of the media don’t like and don’t follow what goes on in the OO they never noticed. Unionism and Loyal orders have shifted on parades.

    The OO has done more work around parades in the last five years than since it was founded and it has managed to do it without peeving off large sections of its membership or community. It is successfully managing a change process. On this occasion Mitchel McLaughlinn’s stated desire for division within Unionism has not came about.

    SF didn’t seem to realise they were letting the sectarian genie well and truly out of the bottle within their own community when they started on the parades issue but they did. This was partially a generational issue they did not comprehend how significant sections of the younger generation had bought into a sectarian definition of the conflict. Now they don’t know what to do with the genie or this section of youth (no Oghra posturing doesn’t cut it for them).

    Robbo still looks on for the devolution of P&J despite the Euro election kicking. This gave SF a major political management problem because while Allister grabbed the headlines there were issues for republicans in the result too with creaks in the electoral machine, turnout issues and stasis/decline in the south. The agreed quid pro quo for P&J was republican movement on parades but post the Euro election it is republicans who are backing off issues rather than Robbo.

    So McGuinness was sent to Bodenstown to try and take it off the table and SF spokespersons following up the line its up to the OO to move instead as they try to push the hot potato away from themselves.

    Republican attitudes in the corresponding period show little sign of change, there may be a nicer introduction line/paragraph but the substance is unchanged. A good example is Gerry Kelly’s interview after the Ardoyne riot – the rhetoric on the issue of parading was the same as a decade ago – it hadn’t changed (although it must be acknowledged the position on rioting as a response had).

    The media will provide some easy cover for example Kelly’s false claim of no dialogue around Ardoyne parades uncritically repeated as they try to wriggle out of their quandary of needing P&J to be devolved to show ‘momentum’ but fearful of anting up what they said they would.

  • Chris Donnelly


    First, let’s deal with the myth about opposition to parades being Sinn Fein inspired. I’d have thought a well-educated Orangeman like yourself would know that many of the Order’s songs celebrate fights with catholics opposed to such parades throughout the centuries, never mind in this century long before Sinn Fein was in existence. The ‘generational’ issue is an entirely spurious analysis: nationalists have always opposed Orange parades through their own communities, for the very same reasons that unionists would not countenance reciprocal republican parades through their own streets (and I note you fail to address this matter.)

    The Order’s movement on parades, as you suggest, has amounted to talking with some people. In relation to any other grouping in society, this would hardly be considered forward movement, and it certainly isn’t the type of progress that is required.

    Finally, the idea that Sinn Fein ‘promised’ Orange parades in return for Policing and Justice is nonsense. Put simply, the party could not deliver on it even if they wanted to.

    The Order will have to realise that respect is a two-way street, and the cold reality the Order faces is that, as Ed Curran suggests in today’s Tele, a positive future for the Order requires choosing between wishing to pick sectarian fights with their neighbours and risk overshadowing their big day, or leaving the antagonistic marches behind.

    btw What say you of that Legoniel for Ardoyne walk compromise? It certainly flummoxed poor Mervyn Storey on radio today, who was forced to restrict the freedom of procession to ‘traditional’ parades….

  • Paul

    I would say the only difference between now and 30 years ago is that nationalists are now relatively safe while demanding an end to the sectarian coat trailing

    30 years ago there was a real risk of being murdered by a whole host of government and unionist organizations if one stuck their head above the parapet

  • fair_deal


    “I’d have thought a well-educated Orangeman like yourself would know that many of the Order’s songs celebrate fights with catholics opposed to such parades throughout the centuries”

    Two flaws in that argument.

    My education is sufficiently broad to know that they have been an intermittent occurrence since the Order was founded but not a permanent feature and each re-occurrence has had different reasons localised and general. It also educates me that different incidents had varying degrees of organisation or spontantiety. Organised opposition is a feature of some e.g. at Dolly’s Brae the Ribbonmen provided it. To present opposition to parades as consistently ‘spontaneous’ is incorrect.

    Second the popularity of opposing parades and the ease of gaining support for such a campaign is not the same as spontaneity or non-organisation.

    “the idea that Sinn Fein ‘promised’ Orange parades in return for Policing and Justice is nonsense. Put simply, the party could not deliver on it even if they wanted to.”

    No it isn’t although you sustain why they are back-tracking – a rash promise to get something they wanted but now its pay up time they have went into reverse.

    In negotiations you don’t get something for nothing (well unless you are dealing with David Trimble but he’s gone now) so please think about these questions – why would Unionists have even bothered with the issue of P&J unless it had not been made worth their while? If as you say I am incorrect about saying parades was it then please explain what enticement did SF offer?

    “What say you of that Legoniel for Ardoyne walk compromise? It certainly flummoxed poor Mervyn Storey on radio today, who was forced to restrict the freedom of procession to ‘traditional’ parades….”

    I haven’t heard the particular interview. If you are suggesting a nationalist march from Ligoneil to Ardoyne I will say what I always said it should go ahead and those who are opposed to it should hold a peaceful protest. Furthermore at a couple of community meetings in the area I actually raised the self-same topic.

    ” Ed Curran suggests in today’s Tele, a positive future for the Order requires choosing between wishing to pick sectarian fights with their neighbours and risk overshadowing their big day, or leaving the antagonistic marches behind.”

    What was it you were saying about the Bel Tel the other week? 😉

    If your summary of Ed Curran’s piece is correct then that ‘analysis’, if it can even be called that, is superficiality dressed up as strategic wisdom. It tries to ignore basic physical realities such as north belfast with its patchwork of different communities living cheek by jowl or the situation of protestant minorities in border and rural areas/towns/villages. It is based on assumptions that the OO is looking a fight and that it is only it seeking a fight. It also ignores that past voluntary re-routing didn’t make the problem go away it simply moved it to somewhere new.

  • Chris Donnelly


    To turn one of your comments around, the popularity of promoting a parade or of gaining support for a parade is not the same as spontaneity or non-organisation, and I pointed in my piece to Faulkner’s use of Longstone Road, Paisley with Divis and Trimble at Garvaghy to illustrate how unionist leaders used the occasion of Loyal Order parades to galvanise support for themselves and deliberately antagonising nationalists in the process.

    Arguing that republicans helped to articulate support against Loyal Orders parades through nationalist areas is not something that I would take as an insult; it was, and remains, a case of providing leadership where it was clearly in demand. For what it’s worth, I believe republican leaders should be considerably more strident in stating this.

    That many unionists sought to portray this opposition as being merely concocted by republicans actually insulted local nationalist communities and further entrenched opinions against the Loyal Orders- imagine if I was to maintain that opposition to a republican parade through Ballysillan was merely being stirred up by the DUP, and that protestants really hadn’t a problem with it. It may be difficult for some to comprehend, but that is precisely what nationalists hear when Loyal Orders/ Unionist spokespersons speak about contentious parade routes.

    But, instead of going around the course another time with you, what if we were to thrash out the alternative proposal I presented, and you intimate to have supported, as a means of securing a desirable outcome for all?

    If you’re interested send me an email as it is something I believe is worth pursuing.

  • fair_deal


    “the popularity of promoting a parade or of gaining support for a parade is not the same as spontaneity or non-organisation, and I pointed in my piece to Faulkner’s use of Longstone Road, Paisley with Divis and Trimble at Garvaghy to illustrate how unionist leaders used the occasion of Loyal Order parades to galvanise support for themselves and deliberately antagonising nationalists in the process.”

    So Faulkner, Trimble and Paisley were bad for behaving in such a manner but SF acting in the equivalent manner is ‘a case of providing leadership’? Hmmmm.

    As regards a parade from Ligoneil if nationalists are serious about the proposal then the mechanism for dialogue with Unionists already exists, it is the North and West Belfast Parades and Cultural Forum.