Parading & the Lessons for Conciliatory Strategies

Yesterday I was in attendance for the annual Easter commemoration held in Ardoyne for local republicans from the Ardoyne, Ligoniel and Bone areas who had lost their lives in the struggle for Irish freedom.

The occurrence of the event would not have likely registered with the neighbouring loyalist communities on account of the fact that the parade route did not stray beyond the accepted confines of the overwhelmingly catholic Ardoyne area and indeed steered clear of the interface roads in all directions.  

It occurred to me how simple it would be to make Easter Tuesday into an annual interface clash as is the case in the area for the 12th July loyalist parade.

What an interesting challenge it would be to unionism were republicans to seek to parade from Ligoniel to Ardoyne down the same road and using precisely the same argument that loyalists use for their contentious Crumlin Road parades- ie it’s a shared stretch of road and the only direct manner of getting from one district to another. Incidentally, the loyalists were at it again on Easter Monday, marching past Ardoyne so that they could then get onto buses and make their way to Carrickfergus…

So why is it not the case that republicans seize the opportunity to cause trouble for their loyalist neighbours?

Well, republicans will tell you that it is because their singular interest for the day is on remembering and commemorating republicans who have died whilst fighting for a united Ireland. Accordingly, republicans from Ligoneil do not have cause to parade from their district down to Ardoyne. Provoking a sectarian stand off might antagonise ‘the other,’ spark a conflict between young loyalists and the PSNI, as well as giving the Parades Commission a headache, and ultimately it would be to the detriment of community relations in the area and distract from the raison d’etre of the day’s proceedings.

There’s a very obvious lesson in there for the Loyal Orders…..

Peter Robinson doesn’t appear to get how this sits uncomfortably (to say the least) with his slightly conciliatory strategy. But, ironically, the UDA Leader Jackie McDonald does appear to understand the obvious contradictions inherent in Robinson’s approach.

Those who have attempted to argue the case in defence of the sincerity of Peter Robinson’s Outreach initiative will doubtlessly be observing with the rest of us how the East Belfast-based First Minister handles the proposed Orange/Loyalist mobilisation planned for this May in that part of the city.

In a fascinating intervention, UDA Leader Jackie McDonald has revealed that the Loyal Orders are “allowing loyalism to join in” with the Ulster Covenant parade, outlining how UVF members will march in “the Somme gear” and how “the UDA will be suited and booted.”

Throw in the unionist politicians and it’ll be quite the PUL gathering: paramilitary & politician hand in hand with Loyal Orders’ members who once upon a time would have had us believe they opposed paramilitarism.

Unlike the First Minister, who of course intervened to aid the Loyal Orders as they sought to fulfil the right to antagonise their catholic neighbours in the Short Strand last July (just weeks after the UVF had orchestrated a sectarian invasion of the small catholic enclave), McDonald has sounded a dissenting chord, suggesting that unionists should be taking into consideration how nationalists view such a procession, not least since it will pass by the Short Strand area.

Perhaps he’s just a Lundy. Traitor. Egotist.

Or perhaps the loyalist leader, through years of direct engagement with nationalist and republican representatives at all levels, has begun to appreciate the need to accommodate the Irish nationalist tradition within a progressive unionist narrative in a manner which remains at odds with that of the undisputed political leader of modern unionism.

‘Tis a funny old world…….