Derry civic forum debates march
By Martha McClelland
For the first time the Apprentice Boys, the Orange Order and
Unionist councillors participated in community-wide discussion on
the parades issue in Derry this week.
The Civic Forum, chaired by SDLP former Mayor Martin Bradley, was
set up after last year's disastrous Apprentice Boys' parade. It
has met only twice before and includes the Bogside Residents'
Group and the Ulster Community Action Network, associated with
the UDA/UDP. Although the Forum has no power, by providing a
platform for discussion it could, if accommodation is reached,
avoid an imposed ruling from the Parades Commission on the annual
Apprentice Boys march due to take place in the city on 8 August.
The Apprentice Boys have already announced their intention to
march the full length of the Walls. The Parades Commission is
likely to permit this, although to do so would fly in the face of
all their criteria for contentious parades, in damage to
community relations, civic and business disruption, and violence
associated with the march.
The Bogside Residents' Group have submitted a number of proposals
for consideration to the Forum. These include limiting the
numbers participating, particularly of bands, an alcohol ban and
restricting the route of the march. One very contentious aspect
is the closure of the city centre arising from the route. The
Apprentice Boys insist on going to the War Memorial in the
Diamond twice, by a main shopping thoroughfare, shutting down the
city centre for hours on a busy Saturday.
Derry's Apprentice Boys march in August is the North's largest
and most disruptive Loyalist march. Even Belfast's 12th of July
parade is smaller, since the numerous parades dispersed across
the North limits the numbers at any one parade. Last year, 149
bands marched into Derry city centre (including one with LVF
colours), closing down most businesses for the day and resulting
in massive civic unrest.
The business community, tourism promoters and even residents of a
Unionist housing estate have objections to the march. In contrast
to the 12th of July, which is a bank holiday, the Apprentice Boys
march falls on a normally busy Saturday. Business losses run into
thousands. Business people are further incensed because the
second major Apprentice Boys event, the Burning of Lundy, takes
place on the busiest shopping day in the year, the second
Saturday before Christmas.
Ironically, even residents of the Loyalist Fountain estate have
problems with the marches. Consultation revealed that residents
feel the march lasts too long, inundating the Fountain. Worse,
pensioners complain that heavily-drinking Loyalist bandsmen rush
into the only Unionist estate on the cityside - not to embrace
their brethren, but to relieve themselves in entryways and