I’m not sure I agree that Chris’s account of this Twelfth is quite as comprehensive as John implies, but it does highlight why defending the loyal orders right to march on the public highway might be such a hard sell. It’s nine years since Gerry Kelly had his arm broken defending a British soldier from a republican mob in Ardoyne.
The tensions in north Belfast each summer are palpable. And it is hardly surprising. The area suffers a heady mix of sectarian apartheid, social deprivation, and sheer mutual hate. In the distribution of civilian deaths in the troubles, north Belfast comes second only to the killing grounds of west Belfast.
There were 402 murders of civilians in north Belfast altogether, many of them concentrated in the very areas where this parading dispute has been at it hottest. That’s not far off a quarter of all civilians killed in the whole conflict.
The bitterness goes deep, and in some cases continues to be driven by the residual animus of ex prisoners who continue to exert huge influence on both sides of the dispute.
Yet in 2007 and 2008, I cannot find any record of trouble on this particular interface. It does however, kick off again largely but not solely by youth in 2009. This was also the year that GARC (Greater Ardoyne Residents Association), an alternative to CARA (Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association). In the words of Martin Og Meehan:
What many inside and outside Ardoyne did not understand was that CARA only spoke for those residents who lived on/close to the march route. It did not represent the remainder of local people who also wanted to see an end to these marches.
GARC was from the beginning looking to make a much larger play:
In order to properly represent those opinions, GARC was formed and held a successful survey of every family in the Greater Ardoyne area. Results of the above survey confirmed that the vast majority of local people wanted an end to unwelcome parades. GARC published its findings and publicly announced its intention to oppose sectarian marches in future.
On the other side, the Orange Order in north Belfast greeted the news of last week’s ruling that the Orange would not be allowed to return up the Crumlin past the Ardoyne shops with the strategically inept alternative – not of using Ballysillan Park for a peaceful and secure demonstration against the ruling – but choosing a full confrontation with a heavily augmented police force.
The DUP’s problem is that it backed the Orange without necessarily knowing what it had been planning. Convinced that the Orange had booked Ballysillan Park in which to hold a protest, they booked Stormont for tomorrow’s emergency debate. A debate for which on the face of it they now have precious few convincing lines to use in their own defence.
In the meantime, any future compromise over the Ardoyne is hard to foresee. GARC were quick to get leaflets round the doors of greater Ardoyne to claim a famous victory. It was, after all, the outcome they’d been looking for right from the start.
But in gaining so soon what they set out to achieve, the Parades Commission may have also shot their political fox. Talk of scaling it up by taking their Ban the Orange campaign to other parts ignores the dynamic that is generally in train which is peaceful settlement by local agreement.
Galling as it may be for some to see the raw violence over the last four years so completely rewarded, it is not a path the Orange Order can or should take themselves. As Tom Kelly notes in today’s Irish News:
The Orange Order could do well to look to their country brethren in terms of improving their image – certain the Belfast Orange is their weakest link. Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy thanked me for going along to the Twelfth – it was a welcome message but if I ever go again, it will be to Ballinamallard.
The underlying problem though is Belfast’s unique and intense geography of hate. [When] Bands fire up when passing Catholic areas, and later justify it on the basis that ‘they hate us’. They nearly always do. And the recharged communal hatred continues to feed off itself.
As one republican friend put it, earlier today, the one way to put the Parades Commission out of business, is for the Orange to do the business directly with residents for themselves, and close the trouble down early.
As the DUP tomorrow, they have still have a valuable base in the loyalist areas of north Belfast. Trying to do fragile deals of faith with ex prisoners who can no longer stand them is not working.
Perhaps it is time for a one way bet on the future. One with huge risk, yes. But one they (and the Orange) can surely no longer afford not to take?
As for Sinn Fein, they’ve been fortunate in their opponents once again…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty