Irish Republican News · July 23, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Letter to Billy

(by Danny Morrison, Andersonstown News)

Last Friday, former UVF killer, Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party, and North and West Belfast Parades Commission, said that he didn’t understand nationalist objections to loyalist marchers coming through nationalist areas and that he was prepared to talk. Danny Morrison replies.

Billy, working backwards, the Brits occupied Iveagh Elementary School, next to the Pigeon Club, on a Monday, and we welcomed them. Our barricades on Broadway and surrounding streets had been erected on the Saturday. Bombay Street had been burnt down on the Friday. Throughout Thursday night and into its early, scary hours, hundreds of Catholic homes had been petrol-bombed and seven people shot dead, including nine-year-old Patrick Rooney by the RUC.

Some say it all began in August 1968 when the civil rights movement was asking for trouble by ‘illegally’ marching from Coalisland to Dungannon, a march few knew about. Others, that it started on October 5th 1968 when the RUC were caught by the world’s press baton-charging the civil rights marchers in Duke Street, Derry.

Billy Love, try, try to imagine it. It was decades in the making: all that humiliation; industry located in unionist areas; priority housing for government supporters; jobs for their boys; extra votes for their businessmen; the boat to England, Australia and the USA for our ones.

However, on the Tuesday - the 12th August, 1969 - during an Apprentice Boys march through Derry, some bandsmen, or their supporters, threw pennies from the city walls towards nationalists below in the Bogside, to remind them of their ‘poverty’ and second-class citizenship.

Rioting erupted and nationalist youths, having witnessed the invasion of their area by the RUC some months earlier when Sammy Devenny was badly beaten in his own home, and later died, were this time well-prepared. The ‘Battle of the Bogside’ - three days of fierce rioting - began. The RUC repeatedly fired CS gas into the Rossville Flats but couldn’t suppress the uprising, coverage of which was now, again, assuming international proportions. Effete, from fifty years of supremacy, the RUC was so quickly exhausted that the Ulster Unionist government at Stormont mobilised the Protestant paramilitary B-Specials.

Fears that fresh RUC forces were also to be sent to Derry led to a series of nationalist protests across the North.

It was after one such demonstration outside Hastings Street barracks in Divis Street that the B-Specials, the RUC in armoured cars and loyalist supporters invaded this deprived area, burning houses, shooting up homes and killing civilians.

The British army were then hurriedly deployed to replace the discredited RUC and act as ‘peacekeepers’ - though they quickly came to be viewed by nationalists as an instrument of unionist and British rule. Meanwhile, behind the barricades, the IRA was reorganising.

Billy, history can be disputed but not personal experience. It was thirty-five years ago, I was sixteen, and as far as my generation is concerned, the real touch paper for the explosion of the conflict was a loyalist march through a nationalist area.

Which is why loyalists marching past Ardoyne last week (after the Agreement you voted for, negotiations, a peace process, an IRA ceasefire), marching in the circumstances that they did, in collaboration with the British secretary of state and the PSNI, justifies for many people the resumption of an armed struggle, if it means that nothing really has changed.

I believe that there is nothing to be further gained by armed struggle but you and mainstream unionist leaders need to tell not me, but others, that that is not the case. We switch on the news and we hear that nationalists, according to unionists, are ‘intolerant’ and are out to ‘destroy Protestant culture.’

What is it about the culture of the Twelfth, and other Orange celebrations, Billy, that we object? To tell the truth, I view the celebration of the victory of Protestant William of Orange over Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 as a bit pathetic, but not a real problem. No problem either, Billy, with painting your own pavements red, white and blue; nor loudly playing Oswald Mosley’s greatest hits, in your own areas.

I am not a Papist but burning effigies of the Pope on top of Eleventh Night bonfires is hardly a statement of non-sectarianism. Burning effigies of Sinn Féin representatives also sends out - how can I phrase it? - a KKK passion for burning people to death? Then there is the erecting of paramilitary flags outside Catholic homes; the erecting of arches in mixed communities; and loudly banging Lambeg drums whilst passing Catholic areas.

Then, Billy, there’s the bonfires, where hooded UVF paramilitaries, amongst others, strut around with guns and have a shoot-off. To the side, Catholic homes are petrol-bombed or shot up.

All of which brings us to Ardoyne.

I do not live there and so cannot speak for that community. The Parades Commission said it would allow the Orange lodges to go quietly down the road early in the morning. I cannot see me objecting to that provided I don’t hear anything, it passes quickly, the road is reopened, and nobody bangs on my window offering me, a ninety-year-old Catholic, or a widow of ten, a fight.

About the return route this year the Commission said, “only Lodge members and the notified marshals may process on foot”, passed Ardoyne shops. It also said that it expected the unionist community, “to ensure that no grouping of followers assembles in a way that would suggest to Ardoyne residents that a second unnotified parade might be taking place.”

Loyalists protested against this ruling. Their supporters blocked Ligoniel Road, preventing nationalists getting to their homes. Three weeks ago David Trimble and loyalist paramilitary spokespersons warned that the parade decision (which loyalist threats successfully overturned) in relation to a march on the Springfield Road could create a “serious and dangerous situation” and “may well kick us off into a very hot summer.”

Imagine being penned in all day, Billy. That evening, the three Orange lodges, as agreed, pass by. Then, less than five minutes later, the PSNI - suspiciously, vintage 1969 - disingenuously claim that they have “fully policed the Parades Commission’s determination”, that the return leg of the march is ‘over’ and it is now a ‘new situation’.

Under laughable ‘Public Order’ considerations they allow five hundred drunk and semi-drunk loyalists, including known paramilitaries, to swan past Ardoyne cheering and jeering, singing The Sash and boasting about who they “gave the message to”, that is, shot dead.

Why, Billy, it was like throwing pennies at the Bogsiders.

So, yes, there is a lot to discuss, about your culture, history, but a lot about our experiences.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News