The British government is attempting to turn sectarian and sometimes violent celebrations of a 17th century battle victory over Irish Catholics into a “festival” for tourists -- and has provided a six-figure grant to the Protestant Orange Order to do so.
The Order has been provided the funds to ostensibly “popularise” the annual Twelfth of July parade in Belfast, marking the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, in which thousands were killed.
British government ministers were understood to be hopeful that the display of Protestant triumphalism could be turned into a tourist draw. In particular, it was suggested that the event might be used to attract loyalists from Scotland.
However, Republicans were baffled and disgusted by the development, with some comparing it to grant-aiding the Klu Klux Klan in the US. The move is being seen as an attempt to capitalise on signs of increasing tolerance for loyalist parades among nationalists in the North and is the latest in a series of concessions to unionist hardliners.
Sinn Féin councillor Paul Maskey said he found it “very, very hard to believe that the British government would put money into the Orange Order to the tune of #104,00”.
“Thousands of people were put off coming to Belfast after the Orange Order wrecked large parts of the city last year,” Mr Maskey said.
He contrasted funding of Orange Order with a decision to withdraw funding of #100,000 from the West Belfast festival, Feile an Phobail.
“Do they take funding off one event to give to another?
“Feile is one event which brings in a good amount of money and is cross-community - many DUP members have taken part in the ‘West Belfast Talks Back’ event in the feile, for example.”
He said Belfast City Council had refused to fund St Patrick’s Day - “an inclusive event - but Orangemen who happen to be city councillors refuse to fund it”.
“I don’t think the British government would fund the British National Party to march through London and the Orange Order isn’t much better. It bans Catholics from joining and it is all about triumphalism.”
The Orange Order and its parades remain closely associated with the intimidation of Catholics.
The Order is an avowedly anti-Catholic organisation, with a secret, oath-bound membership and a violent history.
Twelfth of July marches celebrate the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 but Orange Order parades include references to modern violence as well, with unionist paramilitary groups represented in some marches.
The approach of the Twelfth of July is the cue for a mass exodus when families from both sides of the community head south or fly abroad to escape the height of the marching season
Businesses close and Belfast city centre in particular is avoided by anyone who is not an Orange Order supporter.
The annual Twelfth of July Orange Order celebrations begin on the ‘eleventh night’ with the traditional bonfires but these are often associated with violence and vandalism.
Eleventh night bonfires regularly host paramilitary shows of strength, this included the appearance of masked and armed UVF members at a city council sponsored event in east Belfast last year
A series of violent incidents recorded over the last two years alone included attacks on police, multiple stabbings and a rape.