Edwin Poots’ guest blog on Slugger has provided a welcome opportunity to expose the absurdity of unionism’s position on contentious loyalist parades, helpfully highlighted by the recent comments of one time anticipated Loyal Order Luca Brasi and now simply UDA leader, Jackie McDonald (more on that later.)
Let’s start with the DUP Health Minister’s barely credible claim that nationalism’s failure to wholly embrace loyalist parades in catholic communities means that unionists would not be welcome in a united Ireland.
This raises all sorts of fascinating challenges for Edwin’s own Protestant /unionist community which poor Edwin clearly has not thought through.
Firstly, if this is the measure of how to judge acquiescence in a constitutional framework, then logically it would follow that Edwin and the DUP would support the holding of republican parades in overwhelmingly loyalist towns along with the erection of republican flags, arches etc. in said areas all in the name of proving unionism’s willingness to embrace Irish republican culture in a UK constitutional framework. I haven’t heard of that happening yet…
Secondly, the ability to hold a parade in Rossnowlagh should bear no relation to the willingness or otherwise of nationalist communities in the Six Counties to host such parades. Indeed, it is akin to saying that because major English cities have hosted Irish republican demonstrations and parades throughout the past 30 years then republicans should be entitled to demand that the Protestant / unionist communities of Carrickfergus, Larne and the Shankill Road host republican parades through their communities. Given the differing communal experiences of people in rural Donegal, Liverpool and the republican and loyalist communities of the North of Ireland, it is reasonable to assume that the latter would have greatest reason to oppose being forced to host such parades.
Let’s return to Edwin’s MOPEish rant regarding the opposition of Crumlin’s overwhelmingly nationalist populace to the arrival of some 5,000 loyalists to their town this Thursday.
Crumlin’s nationalist majority, as noted by the Parades Commission in its determination, stand out in a northern Irish context for their willingness to tolerate expressions of the minority unionist culture in a manner which is simply not reciprocated by any Protestant/ unionist community across the northern state at present.
Every year, numerous loyalist parades are held in Crumlin and an Orange Arch is erected with multiple loyalist flags hanging from every angle on it. The Orange Hall also flies a loyalist flag every day of the year (the Union Flag has been replaced by some Royalist banner in recent times…)
Then, as now, the loyalists involved deliberately sought to increase tensions and antagonise their catholic/ nationalist neighbours by inviting to the contentious parade the controversial Pride Of The Village flute band from Stoneyford which has a very long and unsavoury record of being involved in organising parades clearly aimed at intimidating and harassing the minority catholic population of Stoneyford- with considerable effect.
Indeed, the contrast between how the catholic minority of Stoneyford and the protestant minority communities of the neighbouring villages of Crumlin and Glenavy are treated could not be more pronounced.
Stoneyford’s loyalists have for more than a decade led a campaign to intimidate Catholics from the village, leading to the closure of the village’s only pub and fleeing from the village of dozens of catholic families. Loyalists ensure that flags fly throughout the village all year round and have led marches into mixed housing communities with the sole purpose of intimidating local Catholics- something recognised by the Parades Commission but, shamefully, long ignored and excused by unionist politicians.
In contrast, nationalists in neither majority nationalist village of Crumlin nor Glenavy have sought to intimidate the minority Protestant communities by erecting flags throughout the villages nor by seeking to hold provocative marches aimed at harassing local Protestants. Indeed it remains the case that the only flags to be seen in either village throughout the year are those associated with the minority unionist tradition, a remarkable measure of the tolerance of the majority community in both villages.
And yet it would appear that unionism- through its political leaders and perpetually reckless and unaccountable Loyal Orders- are intent on provoking a response from the majority community which could damage community relations for years to come.
Crumlin is a part of Antrim Borough Council, a place where a UUP councillor recently boasted that he did not care if it was undemocratic or not, he simply would never support power-sharing with Sinn Fein. Antrim was also the location in which a unionist councillor excused the erection of loyalist flags outside a catholic church by claiming “it was all British,” even the bits outside the chapel.
But it is most evident in the utter failure of any strand of mainstream political unionism to separate from the nakedly sectarian agendas pursued annually by the Loyal Orders and the associated loyalist bands. In this vein, how fitting to see DUP MP Nigel Dodds suggest loyalist violence would follow the Ardoyne parade whilst standing beside, ahem, “leading loyalist” spokesman Winston Irvine. So much for that north Belfast initiative aimed at targeting potential catholic DUP voters outlined on this very site by a senior DUP strategist…..
The parading dispute boils down to unionism demanding what it would not countenance reciprocating- ie hosting very public expressions of the political/cultural identity of ‘the other.’ Attempting to cling to a victimhood status as a result of nationalist resistance to such parades may be consistent with the albeit dubious Orange narrative of significant events in Irish history but it does little to bring unionism and the Loyal Orders anywhere closer to a realisation of the changing order of a post-Agreements Northern Ireland.
It is long since past time that journalists challenged unionist political leaders as to whether or not they would publicly support and seek to facilitate republican parades in majority unionist communities in precisely the same manner they ask of their nationalist neighbours.
And it is not simply the media which needs to up its game in this regard.
Mick has noted Henry Patterson’s recent speech
to an assembled gathering of Young Unionists. Whilst the inference that unionism has a monopoly on intellectual discourse can be quickly dismissed as a nonsense, nevertheless Patterson is actually onto something when noting the negative consequences in terms of discouragement of innovation and independent and critical political thought of the rigidly centralised political structure that characterises northern Sinn Fein.
For Edwin Poots, that would mean demonstrating his willingness to support not only a republican parade through Lisburn town centre but also the accompanying erection of republican flags along any proposed route.
The challenge has the distinct advantage of asking unionism’s political leaders to demonstrate a willingness to embrace a future premised on equality and mutual respect or acknowledge the limitations of what can and should be asked of both communities as we progress as a society.
Finally, it is somewhat fittingly ironic that the most enlightened unionist voice on the vexed parading issue has been the aforementioned UDA Leader, Jackie McDonald. In today’s Belfast Telegraph, McDonald calls for an end to return parades from the Fields, noting the intra-loyalist tensions that predominate at such gatherings as well as the interface clashes that could so easily be avoided were the Orange Order to decide to follow such a course of action.