Thoughts on peace in Northern Ireland


Normally, I am proud of being a citizen of Northern Ireland, I can hold my head up high whenever somebody asks me where I'm from, but there are two weeks of the year that make me ashamed to be Northern Irish – the weeks leading up to and following the Twelfth of July. The 2000 marching season has been a disgrace to all right thinking folk in Northern Ireland. I can't believe that there were 'pillars of the community' inciting people to violence! Luckily, I wasn't in the Province during this marching season, since I was working in Glasgow, but seeing the images on TV made me almost weep. The major thing that has occured to me this year, having an outside perspective on events, is that it is extremely childish, on both sides, but especially the Orange Order. They have been reliving past glories for the past 300 odd years, at the expense of a sizable proportion of the population. Frankly, I can understand why the catholic community is upset. If a certain segment of society spent two weeks every year celebrating, say, the victory over Germany in the Second World War, I dare say that many people would be quite upset, or even outraged. They are both events that happened a long time ago. We should learn about them in the classroom in an objective fashion, but not rub peoples' noses in it.

I was away for most of the 1999 marching season, on holiday (possibly the best place to be doing during those two weeks!), so don't really know what happened this year, but from what I was able to pick up on the news after I got back, although there had been trouble, especially around Drumcree (as usual), it was not on the same scale as 1998.

The 1998 marching season in particular ashamed and disgusted me and every right thinking individual of Ulster. Seeing the barricades being erected at Drumcree and the resulting violence throughout the Province has deeply saddened me; I know that the majority of the people demonstrating there were doing it peacefully, but why did they have to demonstrate at all? The Orange Order broke the law in attempting to march down the Garvahy Road, after the decision of the independent Parades Commission. It's only a damned march for goodness sake, a few hundred metres of tarmac - it wasn't worth the lives of three children. And not only the members of the Orange Order either. People of Garvahy Road, WHY do you object so much to a few dozen people walking up your road wearing ridiculous orange scarves and bowler hats? I mean, it could just a bit of fun really, if you try - turn it into a bit of a family day out, watching the band walking past, munching on a couple of sandwiches and enjoy the day. I realise that this is inherently unlikely, but one can but hope. Here, I must be fair and commend the people of the Lower Ormeau Road in keeping their protest peaceful and abiding by the decision of the Parades Commission. Although, the cynical part of me asks whether that would have happened if the Quinn brothers had not been murdered the day before.

There was, however, a ray of hope, however, in that marching season. The Apprentice Boys had planned to march through the Bogside area of Derry against the wishes of the local community. This situation was resolved with a compromise – the first that I had heard of in that season. I would claim, as did the representative of the Bogside residents, that this is a victory for common sense and would like to think that this is a sign of things to come.
However, on the day, things did not go as smoothly. There was violence on both sides – with, as usual, the police in the middle. The RUC did, however, say that they believed that the violence was unorchestrated and due to a small minority against the wishes of the community leaders.

If I were a betting man, I would wager that if you asked everybody taking part in any of the Orange marches, less than 50% of them could tell you the political causes and repercussions of the Battle of the Boyne, heck, I wonder how many of them could tell you where the Boyne actually is? I mean, a cause is all very well, but only if you know what it's about. People take part in marches and talk about heritage this and culture that, but if they don't know about the historical background to that culture and heritage then they should just damn well shut up.

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