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Timely reminder to second-class nationalists

(Jim Gibney, Irish News)

In case any one is in any doubt about the purpose behind Orange marches the decision by the Parades Commission in relation to an Orange march on Belfast's Springfield Road this weekend is a timely reminder of what they are about.

Orange marches have one purpose and one purpose only – to remind Catholics and nationalists of their second-class status.

Whether it was Orangemen marching on the Longstone Road, Annalong in the 1950s, Obin Street in Portadown, Derry's Walls or the Springfield Road, Orange marches exist to remind nationalists of their lack of power and their lack of political rights.

The marches are public demonstrations of political domination by unionists of their Catholic neighbours.

Unionist and Orange political power might be waning in the face of the peace process but the Parades Commission's decision proves the Order still retains the capacity to impose its will on society and in particular on the Catholic community on the Springfield Road.

The Orange Order still has the power to dictate to and mobilise the forces of the British state to ensure it is protected. This will be demonstrated when the Parades Commission's decision is policed with the usual military tactics which amount to a curfew. Residents will be hemmed in their homes; their lives disrupted living in a climate of fear.

The Order still has enough influence and strength inside the political and military system to secure decisions which undermine the peace process and do irrevocable damage to community relations.

The parade on the Springfield Road is even more offensive because it is a march associated with the UVF who are responsible for killing many Catholics from that area.

All shades of unionism, political and paramilitary, are involved in this march – the Ulster Unionists, the DUP, the Orange Order, PUP, UVF and UDA. It was this sectarian coalition which justified the mayhem last September when the Parades Commission correctly re-routed the Orange march away from Workman Avenue.

Before making his decision did Roger Poole, chairperson of the Parades Commission, bother to assess the involvement by Orangemen in last September's street violence? They were clearly involved at every stage of the disturbances.

Orange Order violence set the scene for a week of mayhem which spread across Belfast. It involved 150 gun attacks, blast bombs, hundreds of petrol bombs and vehicles being hijacked. Belfast's daily life came to a halt.

The Orange Order and unionist politicians blamed the Parades Commission and absolved themselves from any responsibility.

The new Parades Commission, which includes Orange Order members and sympathisers, have rewarded those behind last September's violence.

The commission also includes, Joe Hendron, former SDLP MP for West Belfast. He needs to publicly explain to his former constituents if he supported the Orange Order's application.

The statement from the Parades Commission chairperson defending his decision is breathtakingly naive.

He described last September's violence as "savage and shameful" and then incomprehensibly says this violence will not be allowed to hold back progress towards a "shared future".

For Poole the "shared future" is allowing unwanted Orange parades to march through Catholic and nationalist areas.

In what can only be described as a bout of wishful thinking to bolster his decision Poole described low-level contact between both sides as "courageous, real and meaningful" dialogue.

Meaningful dialogue is what is needed. Low-level contact should not be exaggerated to fit into the commission's agenda.

The Orange Order should be judged on their intentions. And their intentions are to cause offence to people in places like the Springfield Road. On that basis Orange parades which apply to go through areas where they are not wanted should be banned.

The Orange Order is a secret, oath-bound, sectarian, anti-Catholic organisation. It forfeits any rights it has when it seeks to march through Catholic areas where it is not welcome.

No-one should try to balance out the rights residents have to live free from sectarian intimidation and those of Orangemen. There is no equivalence.

Residents should be protected by the state against the Orange Order which is the aggressor.

No-one would suggest that racists or anti-Semites have rights over those they seek to trample over.

The same attitude should apply to the Orange Order.

June 23, 2006

This article appeared first in the June 22, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News