By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
They talk about ‘the marching season’ by which is meant the Orange marching season, as if it were confined to a specific period of the year. It’s true that the number and frequency of marches peak in the frenzy of July and tail off after the Apprentice Boys inflict themselves on Derry.
In reality loyalist marching never stops: the breaks in between marches just get longer.
Sometimes there’s a reason for a march, a commemoration of some sort, sometimes there isn’t: it’s just to stir the pot. Sometimes they have marches to intimidate a local Catholic community.
Rarely however do they have a march to intimidate an individual.
It must be unique to hold one to intimidate both an individual and a community.
On Saturday November 24 Orangemen intend to march into the centre of Belfast, on a Saturday, a month before Christmas mind you.
They intend to march along High Street and into Donegall Place arriving about noon.
Brilliant for shopping eh? What is the purpose of this parade of intolerance?
To protest against South Belfast MLA Anna Lo. Yes really. Why?
She had the temerity to write a letter to George Spence, leader of the Pride of the Raven Flute Band, because his band had held up one of her constituents so long she couldn’t get to work.
The Pride of the Raven has notified the Parades Commission that they intend to bring, wait for it, forty bands and 3,200 marchers to their protest. Dontcha love the 200? Such precision.
There’s more. After clearing the centre of Belfast of shoppers they intend to head for Shaftesbury Square and then down Donegall Pass to bang their drums past as many Chinese businesses as possible and then turn down Alfred Street to bang their drums at St Malachy’s church. It should also be said that the Apprentice Boys are marching a wee band up Donegall Pass on November 14, but they only expect 80. Still, it’s a wee practice skite and it keeps the pot simmering, shows the Chinese who’s boss.
So far the only people who have expressed approval for these plans is the BNP. They are busy heaping insults on Anna Lo on their website calling her the ‘immigrant MLA’. Some unionist councillors also support the plan for the intimidatory march but they haven’t the guts to go public preferring to urge on the Orangemen from behind. So what’s new? Any chance of any unionist MLA condemning the plan to intimidate Belfast’s Chinese community? Any chance of any member of the Pride of the Raven rejecting BNP support and deploring their language?
Now here’s the big question.
Any chance of the Parades Commission re-routing the parade or better still, keeping it out of the centre of Belfast to protect the traders in the run-up to Christmas? Don’t bet on it.
The Parades Commission will provide its determination but if it isn’t a re-routing the Orangemen will ignore it. This march will pass St Matthew’s as well as St Malachy’s.
Every year the Parades Commission forbids the playing of music past St Matthew’s and every year the loyalist bands play music and every year the Parades Commission does nothing about it.
There’s absolutely no reason why such a provocative parade couldn’t be kept out of the city centre, but if it isn’t there’s absolutely no reason why they can’t be
re-routed down May Street and back over the bridge to east Belfast.
The only reason they’re heading up to Shaftesbury Square is so they can frighten the Chinese community in Donegall Pass. Note the despicable comment of a spokesman for the marchers who said: “Many of the bandsmen may on their way home enjoy a Chinese meal”, knowing full well that any Chinese restaurant will have to consider very carefully whether to open at all with thousands of swaggering toughs milling about outside.
Of course this brave spokesman remained anonymous.
On November 14 the Parades Commission considers this proposed march. They know exactly what it’s about.
They know it’s designed to terrorise a public representative into silence.
They know it’s intended to intimidate and dominate the Chinese community. Here’s a chance for the commission to show as much courage as Anna Lo.