The week that saw the 10th anniversary of the loyalist protest at catholic school girls walking to school in the area has now witnessed the first sustained violence surrounding a contentious loyalist parade this year.
That’s not surprising, as the sectarian geography of north Belfast has meant (and will mean) that political/community tensions will come to the boil on a more frequent basis than perhaps anywhere else in the north of Ireland.
Yesterday’s loyalist violence followed a predictable pattern. Parade determination announced, one side loses out. Subsequent ratcheting up of tension begins (cue loyalist street protest Thursday evening) before the marching hour brings with it the almost inevitable violence.
Nelson McCausland donned his best tribal colours when he suggested that the violence was because the Parades Commission appeared to loyalists to reward republican violence following last year’s series of contentious loyalist parades down the Crumlin Road interface. Nelson conveniently ignored the fact that the most sustained violence witnessed around parading in the north/ west Belfast interfaces in recent times was instigated by the Loyal Order/ Loyalist paramilitary rioting following the 2005 Whiterock parade. Republicans will tell you that they believe the intensity of that violence- and subsequent political pressure from unionism- has meant that many contentious loyalist parades have been green-lighted since then. And on it goes.
I can recall Sinn Fein representatives being asked by the local media to publicly call for local residents to report the rioters to the PSNI following last year’s republican rioting in Ardoyne following the Twelfth of July parade. No doubt we’ll hear similar challenges being put to Nelson in the days ahead…..
Resolving this particular parade dispute is significant because it provides an annual rallying cry for republican dissidents as well as reaffirming to nationalists that the antagonistic dimension to Loyal Orders/ loyalist parading is never far from the surface. Some unionists will point to the dispute as evidence of a lack of tolerance of expressions of their tradition.
This is old ground on Slugger (who are we kidding, nearly everything is at this stage!) but I do believe that thinking outside the box on this one could hold the key to resolving this dispute.
Contentious parades are so precisely because they involve challenging one community to play host to expressions of the other culture. The unionist reaction to the new Lord Mayor of Belfast’s rather enlightened and innovative approach to ensuring expressions of both main political communities were visible in what should be the politically neutral terrain of the Mayor’s Parlour in City Hall indicates to nationalists very clearly that many unionists quite simply would not countenance hosting a reciprocal republican parade.
But this particular dispute actually presents a rather unique opportunity for both communities to display a willingness to host the other community’s parades and in the process hopefully transform the atmosphere surrounding these annual parades.
The argument used by many loyalists to support the Crumlin Road parade is that Ballysillan/ Ligoniel loyalists have no other means of returning home from parades other than by walking this route.
Leaving aside the fact that this is a somewhat bogus argument- given that public or private transport could very easily get the concerned loyalists from A to B rather quickly- nevertheless it is the case that the situation is precisely the same for Ligoniel republicans.
I know many republicans from that area who have participated in republican demonstrations and parades throughout the years and, not once, have they managed to return home by parading through loyalist Ballysillan.
I don’t personally hold out much prospect for the proposal at this stage, but wouldn’t it be great if the rawest of sectarian interfaces could crack a dispute with a proposal that could transform perceptions across the board, not to mention prevent future generations of local kids from both communities from ‘coming to the attention’ of the police for getting involved in the annual rioting?