The sound of hands being washed clean
The sound of hands being washed clean

By Brian Feeney

So far blame for the return to the tactics of imprisoning a whole nationalist community to ease the passage of their tormentors has been more or less divided between police and the Parades Commission. There are other culprits.

First, the unionist politicos who interfered in the matter of the Orange march past Ardoyne and Mountainview.

They displayed everything that is wrong with the leadership unionist politicians provide.

United only in sectarian solidarity with Orangemen and their loyalist terrorist supporters, they are in reality completely divided in intense competition for the support of people who don’t even vote for them. The Orange Order apparently nominated Nelson McCausland, currently of the DUP, to be their spokesman, a choice which says more about the Orange Order than Mr McCausland’s political abilities. Be that as it may, it did not stop Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the shape of David Trimble and Reg Empey from rushing off to Hillsborough to plead their case before our proconsul who happened to be in Ireland. Nigel Dodds MP, also DUP, also pestered the NIO and police. All Orangemen, so completely unbiased.

At least Dodds represents unionists in north Belfast.

Neither Trimble nor Empey represent anyone in north Belfast, nor had they been asked by the Orange Order to speak for them.

So what could they tell our proconsul? Perhaps report the latest information party colleagues had gleaned from meeting loyalist terrorist representatives on the so-called North and West Belfast Parades Forum? What we do know is that they wanted him to reject the Parades Commission’s ruling.

Think about that. The Parades Commission had cravenly granted permission for marches back and forth past Ardoyne, thereby guaranteeing a massive security operation not just in Ardoyne but in Mountainview just across the Crumlin Road, which no unionist mentions is also a nationalist district. So the Parades Commission allowed an Orange march between two nationalist districts even though it has always caused trouble and the Orangemen have always refused to speak to anyone from either district.

However, there were to be no bands playing or camp followers who started the trouble on the route back last year. In fact the Parades Commission commended the good behaviour of the marchers but castigated the camp-followers, many of whom are traditionally paralytic by the time they reach the Crumlin Road. So what did Trimble, Empey, McCausland and co demand?

They had got their marches up and down the road but they wanted the troublemakers to be allowed to pass as well. Responsible leadership you see.

Now to our proconsul. Is he the weakest since Merlyn Rees, another Welsh wobbler? Word has it he didn’t agree with the Parades Commission determination. We dunno. How would we? We’re dealing with a jellyfish wafted to and fro by the currents. We do know he gave no clear political leadership. Would police stop the coat-trailers or not? What did our proconsul want? A peaceful Twalf. Yeah, well we know that. What did he do to achieve it? Nothing.

Nor do we know what assurances, if any, he gave Trimble and co.

All we can say is that they were remarkably quiet when they left Hillsborough, smug even, like men who’d been pacified somehow. We now know why. While nationalists continued to believe the Parades Commission determination barring coat-trailers still stood, the police had been advised it didn’t because the Parades Commission had no authority over non-marchers. Indeed a raggle-taggle of supporters was allowed pass Ardoyne on the Twalf morning.

By the middle of Monday afternoon police and loyalists had agreed on how matters would proceed when the Orange march returned that evening. In all this toing and froing, the only people left out of the loop were the people of Ardoyne and Mountainview whose lives suffer the greatest disruption every year as police facilitate sectarian yahoos.

It was just like old times really when the RUC used to seal off Catholic districts without explanation and then suddenly out of a clear blue - has to be blue - sky, an Orange march would appear. The establishment of the Parades Commission was supposed to end this collusion between police and Orangeism. Residents were to be included in decision-making instead of being the only people who didn’t even know what the decision was. The political blame for the return to this deplorable state of affairs lies squarely with our current lily-livered, weak-kneed proconsul who was silent and invisible on the Twalf itself and in the aftermath of the riots at Ardoyne.

He did not back the Parades Commission. He did not say what he’d agreed with unionists. He left it to the police. Pontius Pilate.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News