Hughie Beag is a West Belfast native and recovering legal scholar who spends lots of time in his spouse’s native Basque Country
We’re coming up to the Apprentice Boys of Derry Relief of Derry parade, held annually on the second Saturday in August in the old walled city of Derry on the West Bank of the Foyle.
The ABOD march was previously contested when, as a result of the 1994 ceasefires, the city walls became fully accessible to the public and the then governor of the Apprentice Boys, Alastair Simpson, applied for the organisation to walk its full circuit. This entailed parading the length of the walls that overlooked the Bogside, an exclusively nationalist area of the city, an act which many Bogside residents felt was provocative and liable to cause significant trouble. However, through negotiations between the Apprentice Boys of Derry and the Bogside Residents Group a deal was brokered in 1998 where the ABOD would march the walls without any counter protests from residents.
For many years the Derry template was used as a model example to other Loyal Orders how concerns over contentious marching routes could be assuaged through respectful meaningful dialogue and with a few hiccups, it generally seemed to work until the Soldier F debacle, when one of those soldiers involved in the unlawful killings of Bloody Sunday was to be prosecuted, and one of the (Larne) bands at the ABOD wore shirts with the British Army Parachute Regiment and Soldier F insignia.
Now the issue has raised its ugly head again with street vendors at the march selling Parachute Regiment flags and some of those flags being flown in unionist areas of the city and Derry and Strabane City Council banning stallholders selling the flags.
With Derek Moore of the North West Cultural Partnership stating:
that the council report should have taken into account all events rather than singling out the Apprentice Boys of Derry parade and the way it has been handled and the banning of items could make the situation “far worse” with more Parachute Regiment flags being erected.
The Squinter column in this week’s Andersonstown News put a few things into perspective:
Who described the flying of Parachute Regiment flags in Derry last year as “unacceptable and disrespectful”? In fact it was the Parachute Regiment itself that described the erection of its flags in Derry in those terms, although that won’t cut any military mustard with the DUP who are on record as supporting the right of loyalists in the city to fly Parachute Regiment flags, no matter how much it’s condemned by the regiment they’re paying tribute to.
If unionists in Derry do indeed want to “demonstrate support for those who served in very difficult circumstances”, how come it’s the Parachute Regiment which is their only Derry darling? Why aren’t there any Grenadier Guards flags on sale at the stalls? Why is the service of the Royal Anglian Regiment so much more important to Loyal Ulster than that of the Paras? Does the sacrifice of the Fusiliers deserve to be celebrated ahead of their comrades-in-arms? It’s almost as if the Paras had done something in the city of Derry to earn themselves such a special place in the heart of Our Wee Country.
This is mind-boggling on so many levels.
Is the argument here that deliberate provocation and offence should be permitted because banning them would make things worse?
Why does unionism not recognise that this is a deliberate insult/provocation to the majority of the host city?
Has unionism no idea of the strategy of consensual accommodation regarding contested marches?
Why do elements of ABOD supporters go out of their way to insult and offend?
Please, someone, enlighten me.
This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.