|Among the Catholic residents groups there has been a hardening of
attitudes and this is now an important factor barring the way to any
compromise. The residents groups were first formed as part of a wider
nationalist offensive. Republicans took the first initiative on this
question on the Ormeau Road as a sectarian response to the united
movement of Catholics and Protestants against the Sean Graham massacre
[when a number of Catholics were killed during a Loyalist attack on a
betting office on the Ormeau Road in the 1990s].
The resident's groups used legitimate grievances at the sectarian and
triumphalist nature of Orange parades to whip up feeling and consolidate
Catholic residents behind the demand that the parades be halted. Their
public position was for dialogue but to the most hardline of those in
these groups this was never more than a cover for their real view, that
there should be no parades.
This was not a unanimous position. Even amongst republicans some have
held a softer view. When the mood within the community built up for
genuine dialogue and some resolution the advocates of the no parade
under any circumstances position were more isolated. The change was
reflected in a switch in slogans, from the initial 'no consent, no
parade', which in effect meant a veto by residents, to 'no talk, no
walk', which as it stands is a call for dialogue.
At the moment the emphasis of the key resident's spokespersons leans
more to the earlier intransigent stance. There are a number of reasons.
It flows from the sectarian approach of those nationalists who see the
peace process as a step by step erosion of unionism, an offshoot of the
idea that in twenty or thirty 'we'll outbreed them and bring a united
The reality is that it is the republican movement who have made the
greater concessions in the negotiations, surrendering much of the ground
of republicanism in exchange for paltry concessions and little change.
But the perception among Catholics is different. While there is still a
deep sense of injustice there is also a growing sense of power and a
feeling that the sectarian table is beginning to be turned and that it
is unionism and loyalism that are on the back foot.
Former SDLP councillor Brian Feeney, who now writes a weekly column in
the Irish News, is a tribune of this modern brand of triumphalist
nationalism. In an article dealing with the rerouting of the Tour of the
North parade he advises the Orange Order to go away and march in the
Belfast suburbs where protestants have moved and concludes: "They're not
going to. For the old men who run the order to accept reality would mean
accepting theirs is a community in retreat; that change has happened,
that Belfast is now a nationalist city..."
This more strident- and virulently sectarian - nationalism translates
into a more determined attitude over parades. In turn it is reinforced
by a sense that the marching orders are literally loosing ground. The
Drumcree march has been barred in successive years and the absence of
any strategy to get their way has led to significant splits in the
In fact in most cases where rulings have gone against a march the
decision has tended to become permanent and to be repeated in subsequent
years. Once a march has been banned the arguments of the resident's
groupings are strengthened and there is less pressure on them to give
ground in future years. They can welcome the Parades Commission
decisions where they go their way and continue to dispute those that go
against, maintaining protests in the hope that a parade once rerouted
will never be allowed again.
Publicly the position of the residents groups is for dialogue, but from
time to time the mask has slipped. Gerard Rice for the Lower Ormeau
Concerned Community in a recent opinion column in the Irish News states
that 'LOCC welcomes and encourages all forms of dialogue" and then adds
the rider "but it is important to understand that dialogue is not an end
to itself. Parades, not the absence of dialogue, are the problem."
Dialogue, he states, must be to "address the root causes of the
problems." And since the root of the problem is parades presumably the
dialogue must be discuss that there will be no parade. This is the logic
of the argument and it is the conclusion that Gerard Rice as good as
draws. Explaining that having parades with no sectarian music, or no
abuse of residents is not enough he goes on "in particular we believe we
need to explore creative and alternative forms of expression which do
not carry the sectarian baggage inevitably associated with parades."
The Socialist Workers Party and other ultra left sects have welcomed the
controversy over parades and have sided totally with the residents,
opposing any compromise. The gist of their argument is that the Orange
Order is a right wing neo fascist institution akin to the British
National Party or the Klu Klux Klan. To them every blocked march is a
victory to be toasted. The result, they claim. is a divided Orange Order
which is loosing its base of support in the protestant working class and
is haemorrhaging members.
This is a false view, a triumph of wishful thinking over reality. The
Orange Order is a sectarian and reactionary organisation. Historically
it has been a prop for the unionist establishment and an instrument of
its sectarian abuses. However it is an exaggeration to describe it as
fascist or neo fascist. Were this really the case socialists would
equally oppose Orange marches in Protestant areas as in Catholic.
It is in the interests of the working class to see the influence of the
Orange Order, as with every sectarian institution, diminished. However
the annual confrontation over parades has had the opposite effect. The
Orange Order has suffered a series of defeats in their efforts to force
parades along disputed routes but this does not mean that Protestants no
longer support their right to march or that working class Protestants
now sympathise with the position of the residents committees. In fact
the banning of parades has generated sympathy for the Orange Order even
among working class Protestants who would have otherwise have nothing to
do with it.
Insofar as the failure of the Orange Order to get their way at Drumcree
and other areas can be described as a victory it is a victory for
nationalism, for one form of sectarianism over another, and not a
victory for the working class. Moreover it has been brought about by the
State forces, the RUC and the British Army; not by any independent
action by working class people. The effect will be to draw both sides
further apart, to retreat into 'their own' areas, to sharpen the
territorial division and to prepare for future sectarian conflict.
The only way for resolve the parades issue is through dialogue and
agreement. This will only be brought about through the pressure of the
working class isolating those on both sides who are using this issue to
whip up sectarianism. Just as the issue arises from the overall conflict
so it will only be solved as part of a generalised movement of the
working class against sectarianism.
With the Assembly in place and the sectarian parties administering local
services the grip they have over working class areas can begin to
loosen. How far this process will go will ultimately depend on whether a
working class alternative to sectarian politics can be built. The
existence of the Executive, coinciding with the coming economic downturn
and a sharpening of the class struggle internationally, will provide a
unique opportunity for the building of a socialist alternative.
Any new political movement of the working class will have to deal with
the parades question and with the other issues that are used to divide
the working class. This will require a class approach, evaluating each
question from the standpoint of the united interests of working class
people. The Socialist Party has done this in relation to parades and the
programme we worked out when the problem first erupted at Drumcree
remains the only basis for a resolution.
The Parades Commission is no answer. Its very existence militates
against local discussion and agreement. There is a tendency on both
sides to hold back and await the Parades Commission verdict. Then,
whichever side it favours invariably welcomes the decision and demands
it be enforced, while the other condemns the body. If and when the
decision goes the other way the arguments are quickly reversed.
This is a problem of conflicting rights. The Orange Order has a right to
march. Residents also have a right to object to what the see as coat
trailing exercises through their areas. These rights must be balanced
and this can only be done through discussion, compromise and agreement.
Where a march is through a residential area local people should have a
right to say no to parades that they find offensive. In doing so due
regard should be had for the rights of any minorities living in that
area. The views of a simple majority in an area cannot be used to ride
roughshod over the rights of religious, ethnic or other minorities.
However in nearly all cases the disputed parades are not through estates
but are along arterial routes which main run through built up housing
areas or are in town and city centres. In these cases arguments can be
made on both sides and there is a need for dialogue, although in the
case of town, city and villages centres the general position should be
that they are open to all the cultures and traditions of the people who
live in the area and discussions should be about how this right of
access can be exercised in a way that is sensitive to people of other
and opposing cultures and traditions.
There are two obstacles to dialogue. One is the highhanded and sectarian
refusal of the Orange Order to meet with local residents. The other is
the approach of at least some residents that the dialogue must be about
having no march. It is not possible to stand for dialogue and at the
same time hold the position that there can never be a march and that
Orangemen should, in Gerard Rice's words "find some way of expressing
their culture other than parades".
Negotiations should consider the regularity and route of marches. In the
case of Drumcree it would now need to discuss all the marches that take
place over a year along both the Garvaghy Road and the Corcrain Road. It
would also be necessary to discuss wider issues such equal access to
Portadown town centre to all communities without intimidation.
The conduct of marchers should also be discussed. It would not be
difficult to reach agreement that there should be no music played in
disputed parts of the route or that there should be no paramilitary
displays. Marchers and residents groups should separately steward their
own supporters. There should be no RUC involvement in this, no
background security operation, no restriction of the movement of
residents in and out of their area.
If the will existed on both sides it would not be difficult to arrive at
local agreements along these lines in every disputed area. This is not
being done because of the wider issues involved. Anti agreement
unionists are prepared to take things to the brink over Drumcree, not
because they are deeply concerned about this march, but because it
provides a readily accessible weapon to undermine Trimble.
There are rights on both sides but there is also an overarching right;
that of the working class community to be dragged into a sectarian
conflict over this issue. Trade unionists and genuine community
activists who represent broader working class interests have a
responsibility to apply pressure on both sides to reach agreement and
bring this annual series of confrontations to an end.
At times it can be difficult to take a principled class stand on the
issue. When the sectarian tempo is raised it may mean paying the price
of temporary isolation within working class communities. However our
responsibility and that of class-conscious activists is to hold to a
principled position and not bend to the sectarian pressures of either
This is what the Socialist Party has done in the past. After the
Drumcree parade was forced along the Garvaghy Road in 1996 a powerful
mood developed in Catholic areas that the August Apprentice Boys parade
should be me met with a mass blocade barring its way to the centre of
Derry. We withstood this mood and called for dialogue. We met the
Bogside Residents and pressed our view. We also went onto the streets in
the centre of Derry with a call for dialogue.
Meanwhile the Socialist Workers Party were arguing enthusiastically for
the blocade, holding meetings in Belfast and Dublin to encourage people
to go to Derry to 'halt orange marches'. Unlike such groups we refused
to ride the sectarian wave. Our position was quickly vindicated when
talks did take place and the mood in the city to favour compromise.
In 1998, and again last year, we intervened at Drumcree. We sent a
delegation including our TD Joe Higgins to meet local people and argue
the case for face-to-face negotiations and local agreement. Last year
our position was covered in the local press and received a good
response. If the trade union and community movement was prepared to
resist the sectarian pressures and strongly uphold the right of working
class people not to have their lives disrupted every year because of
sectarian intransigence on both sides the issue could be resolved.
We are not for the victory of one sectarian view over another. We are
for the isolation and defeat of the hardline intransigents on both sides
and for the united interests of the working class to take precedence
over narrow sectarian interests.
|British troops at Drumcree.|