I got my first live call from an Orange demonstration from a dear and highly valued Orange friend (and, god help him, an Arsenal supporter) at about 8.45 this morning, with the sound of the bands in the background. I’m pretty sure if you’d asked my 1982 self, I might not have had such kindly thoughts, but a lot of water has travelled under the bridge since then.
Most Orange demonstrations these days pass off without any need for comment. From Mark McGregor’s great on-the-ground work in the past, we’ve discovered that they run from a family centred traditional Christian celebrations (which pretty much covers most rural events) to a pretty grim drinking fest in which local people are treated with a complete lack of consideration.
The Parades Commission are getting dog’s abuse from all and sundry. But we know that an attempt to push them out of the way and take their arbitration services into OFMdFM were pretty roundly rejected by most stakeholders. In lieu of a proper political resolution, the PC is the best we have.
It is pretty grim that it is the Orange that is having to compromise this year in Ardoyne by accepting that they be bussed in early in order to miss a now officially sanctioned protest in Ardoyne. But at least that protest now has some official status. And the right to demonstrate is an important one in any democratic society.
The right to endanger life is not.
In any other space, it ought to be possible to have demonstration and counter demonstration in the same space at the same time. Perhaps next year, or the year after they will. Is 100 yards of road worth all of this commotion. Clearly so far as the organisers of the protest are concerned it is.
But it is a puzzle to me that those who protest so vehemently against ‘marching Orange feet’ hold so proudly to a Republican emblem that immortalises that same Orange tradition in its own flag. It is also ironic that sentiment against the Catholic church is possibly now more intensely felt amongst these self styled Republican communities than by the average Orangeman.
There’s no short cut to the future in Belfast or anywhere else in Northern Ireland. There are too many dead, injured and exiled stretching back over generations. This will have to be engaged with over and over and over again. Both sides will be as tough as their commitments bid them be.
But despite some nationalist fantasies to the contrary, the Orange tradition is going nowhere anytime soon. And nor are the Catholic and growing non Orange unionist populations. In the meantime, it might pay all (Republican as well as Unionist) to remember they and their tradition cannot not completely own any date on the calendar.
So to all, a happy and safe 12th of July whatever you’re doing and whatever it means to you…