Ormeau Road frustration
BY LAURA FRIEL
Frustration on the Lower Ormeau Road over the continuing refusal of the Apprentice Boys and other loyal orders to fully engage in dialogue with nationalist residents calling for the rerouting of contentious parades reached new heights last week.
Tension followed remarks by leading Apprentice Boy Tommy Cheevers, who claimed that the residents' group, Lower Ormeau Concerned Community, had ``failed to articulate its concern over marches'' and accused the Parades Commission of caving in to threats in its decision to reroute last week's Easter Monday Apprentice Boys' parade away from the Lower Ormeau.
The fact that Orangemen and Apprentice Boys can't accept rerouting as a compromise gives lie to their claim that their parades are a cultural expression of their identity and traditions. Unless, of course, that identity is oppositional rather than affirmative
To set the record straight, the LOCC took the unprecedented step of printing documents outlining their position, which have been presented to Apprentice Boys' representatives during determined efforts to open up meaningful dialogue through a series of contacts over the last ten months. ``It has been very demanding and has involved a lot of time and effort,'' said LOCC spokesperson Gerard Rice, ``yet at the end of it we are not any nearer to a resolution.
``The Apprentice Boys need to understand that there is more to dialogue than going into a room and endlessly asserting the absolute right to march,'' he said, and by refusing to enter into genuine dialogue, the Apprentice Boys had prevented any progress.
Like the white supremacist, whose identity is most fully expressed through the prism of anti black racism, the Orangeman appears to cling to an expression of himself through the subjugation of his Catholic neighbour
``Dialogue is about building trust,'' said the LOCC spokesperson. ``After Tommy Cheevers' misrepresentation of our dialogue to date, where do we stand in relation to trust? It seems we are back at square one.''
In the documents, LOCC presents evidence of an overwhelming nationalist consensus on the parades issue. Locally, the residents' group points to a survey carried out by Coopers and Lybrand in June 1996. Results of the survey revealed that 95% of people living within the Lower Ormeau community wanted the Apprentice Boys rerouted away from the area.
Ninety-one percent saw the parades issue as an issue of sectarianism, while 80% thought that politics rather than culture lay at the heart of the marching issue. A mere 2% believed that parades going ahead in silence without local agreement would be acceptable.
Addressing opinion within the wider nationalist community, the documents cite comments made by a number of religious and political figures. Parish priest Fr. Curran describes parades by the Loyal Orders as humiliating to ``us as a Catholic people''.
Brid Rodgers of the SDLP points out that ``so-called traditional routes are the product of sectarian coat trailing of previous generations''. But it's not an evaluation confined exclusively to nationalists or Catholics. The documents also quote a Reverend Crawford, writing in ``Loyal to King Billy'' in 1987.
``With its politically divisive and sectarian character and its aggressive parades and demonstrations, the Orange Order stands in the way of any serious change in the North of Ireland,'' he wrote. ``Its rallies are a spur for street riots and its dogged belief that it should be allowed to march anywhere in the land, the sign of ownership, causes conflict with Catholics and, since the Troubles began, with the British security forces.''
The submissions expose the underlying issues behind the notion of ``traditional''. Representatives for the Apprentice Boys have placed considerable emphasis on the traditional nature of their parades, an emphasis reflected in the Parade Commission's own criteria.
However, as the LOCC documents point out, ``placing emphasis on the traditional nature of parades misses the point that nearly all contentious parades are longstanding and in fact the longstanding nature of the abuse and provocation associated with those parades has created the situations of contention and confrontation in the first place.''
The LOCC points out that the tradition of parading at Easter was initiated by the Apprentice Boys in the 1930s in opposition to commemorations of the Easter Rising by republicans and ``to reclaim the roads and streets for unionism''. The motivation is political rather than cultural.
The LOCC also discuss criteria laid out by the Parades Commission. These criteria include ``the presence of sites associated with past events which give rise to sensitivity within the community''. Lower Ormeau residents point to Sean Graham's bookmakers, where five local people were killed by loyalists in 1992 and which has been the focus of subsequent abuse of the dead and injured and their families by Orange marchers and bandsmen.
``The sense of deep, grievous and personal pain felt at seeing dead loved ones mocked and their memory abused cannot be equated with any indirect sense of insecurity which may be felt within loyalist communities as a result of a small number of parades being re routed,'' says the LOCC
The documents address the question of demographic change. ``The Apprentice Boys' representatives cannot blithely speak of tradition without recognising that the area has changed significantly since those traditions started.'' They point out the availability of alternative routes, but an offer to allow marchers to cross the bridge and turn left along the Stranmillis Embankment was ruled out by the Apprentice Boys.
The case against Apprentice Boys and other loyal orders parading through the nationalist Lower Ormeau Road is compelling. The case for rerouting contentious Orange parades away from nationalist areas is a reasonable compromise in which there are no winners or losers.
The fact that Orangemen and Apprentice Boys can't accept rerouting as a compromise gives lie to their claim that their parades are a cultural expression of their identity and traditions. Unless, of course, that identity is oppositional rather than affirmative. In other words, an identity based on being anti Catholic, anti nationalist, reactionary and sectarian.
There are over 3,000 Orange parades in the north of Ireland every summer. Nationalist residents have requested the rerouting of only a handful of the most contentious parades. No one wants to ban Orange marches; nationalists ask only that the loyal orders restrict themselves to parading where they do not give offence.
The overwhelming majority of nationalists view Orange parades as triumphalist, coat trailing exercises. Like the white supremacist, whose identity is most fully expressed through the prism of anti black racism, the Orangeman appears to cling to an expression of himself through the subjugation of his Catholic neighbour. As we face another summer of disruption, confrontation and in many nationalist areas, fear of sectarian violence, our message to the Orange and other loyal orders is clear. Prove us wrong. Reroute away from nationalist areas.