By Ardoyne Republican
Every July, young people from Ardoyne are criminalised and demonised by the mainstream media in the Six Counties and beyond because of violence associated with unwelcome sectarian marches that are forced through our small community.
Before, during and after the recent Conflict there has been a violent reaction to these parades, when the RUC, British Army and PSNI hem local residents into their homes with massive military-style Operations including, Curfews. Over the years, many local people have been badly injured with live, Rubber, Plastic Bullets and beatings etc. At the same time, many members of the Crown Forces have also been injured during these clashes.
Sectarianism has been evident in Irish history, since the Plantation of Ulster. When thousands of Scottish and English Settlers where permitted to seize and populate Irish lands by a Decree of English Queen, Elizabeth I. Since then, there has been numerous Battles and Wars in Ireland. The Native population have been treated as second-class and their Laws, Religion, Politics and Culture banned. As a result, resistance to these injustices has been intermittent and mostly violent. The creation of ‘A Protestant State For A Protestant People’ in the Six Counties in 1921, caused Nationalists in the North a terrible legacy.
In recent years, the violence associated with parades in Ardoyne has diminished a lot. However, there is always that particular undercurrent and atmosphere present during the Orange Marching season. The promise by Nationalist Politicians and Church Leaders that the PSNI would no longer be Political like the RUC has not been witnessed by people in Ardoyne. As, a large force of Riot-Clad Peelers, Water-Cannons, serious provocation and Plastic Bullets are still used to force unwelcome parades through Greater Ardoyne.
Like most Ardoyne residents, I’d love to see an end to triumphalist marches through the area by Loyalist Flute Bands and sectarian organisations like the Orange Order, Black Perceptory and Apprentice Boys. Organisations which exist to re-enforce the second-class citizenship of the Catholic/Nationalist and Republican communities in the British Occupied Six County State. I don’t wish to ban these parades or organisations in anyway, but strongly believe that their marches should be re-routed and confined to Protestant/Unionist and Loyalist areas, where they are welcome. Even though, I don’t agree with their politics Loyalist Flute Bands and the Loyal Orders have a right to exist and to mobilise in support and celebration of their rich culture and heritage. As such, they should be allowed to express it in a positive manner. However, marching in areas where it creates problems, negativity and of course violence is certainly NOT positive.
As with most areas, North Belfast has experienced huge changes in demographics which have seen Protestant/Unionist and Loyalist residents, as well as Catholic/Nationalist and Republicans moving from one area to another. Mostly due to the number of killings, attempted shootings and forced evacuation of countless families that occurred throughout the Conflict. No one community has been untouched by these changes and they have caused massive territorial, social and economic problems for all concerned.
It seems the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist community and the Loyal Orders fail to recognise these population changes. A failure to deal with this particular issue by the above people have left a dearth of responsibility, when applying for regular parades. If the Bands and Orders took into account the change in demographics around Ardoyne and the wishes of local Catholic/Nationalist and Republican residents. They would re-examine these marches in the interests of everyone.
Most residents who now live on the Crumlin Road and the Streets around it between Abbeydale and Mountainview are from the Catholic/Nationalist and Republican community. For the last ten years and more, these residents have expressed the opinion that they don’t want to have an Anti-Catholic /Nationalist and Republican march through their area. There have been a number of small and large peaceful demonstrations with Pickets, White-Line Pickets, Sit-Down Protests and Counter-Marches to show our opposition.
During one march up the Crumlin Road in the early Seventies, a group of Loyalists attacked Ardoyne homes. The attack resulted in a bad riot that seen three Unionists shot-dead by the Provisional IRA. Loyalists returned fire and a number of local residents were injured. That particular part of the Crumlin Road was from then on ruled out of bounds for Orangemen. The killing of three Unionists was an extreme action that left a number of families from the Protestant community devastated and should never have happened. Although, it must be taken in the context of the early-days of what is commonly referred to as, ‘The Troubles’. Thankfully, those terrible days are now behind us but it proves just how volatile these marches can become.
Sadly, whenever a Loyal Order march is permitted to march along the Upper part of the Crumlin Road. Scores of young people congregate close by hoping to create, witness and engage in rioting with Loyalists and the Riot-Clad RUC/PSNI Personnel protecting the marchers. The riots are wrong for a number of reasons, not least they take the focus away from the unwelcome parades but they portray young people from Ardoyne as sectarian thugs who only want to cause trouble. For the majority of local Teenagers are sound kids, who positively contribute to family and community life.
Community, Political and Youth Leaders from Ardoyne have tried to arrange Sporting and Community events away from the Upper Crumlin Road every Twelfth to ensure that young people attend them and not become involved in the riots that follow these parades. However, their efforts are not helped by the continued insistence of Loyalist Bands and the Loyal Orders to march where they are clearly not welcome. An associated issue is that too many young people have already become involved in riots in the past and have been through the Courts and Prison system. Hopefully this year, there will be no rioting and Ardoyne and surrounding areas can return to normal and not have to experience all the suffering and sectarianism that comes with the Twelfth.
AN ALTERNATIVE WAY
What is a feasible alternative to Loyal Orders using the Upper Crumlin Road for six marches every year? Seemingly there is no other route in which Bandsmen and Unionists can walk to their regular demonstrations. Therefore, the Protestant/Unionist and Loyalist community in North Belfast insist on parading through the Greater Ardoyne area.
I cannot imagine that those marching along the Crumlin Road like to be surrounded by dozens of Armoured Land-Rovers, Helicopters, Hundreds of Riot-Clad RUC/PSNI members and also experiencing hostile protests from Ardoyne residents. I’m sure they would much prefer, a more peaceful, welcoming enviroment where they can enjoy and celebrate their culture and heritage. For much of the past century, Nationalists and Republicans march within their own areas and do not cause any concern or controversy to the Protestant/Unionst and Loyalist community.
As an Irish Republican Activist and an Ardoyne resident, I’ve no desire to stop Unionists from expressing and/or practising their religious, cultural and political ideology. I’m not sectarian and don’t have an issue with them having equality of treatment. Although, rather than march where it does cause increased tensions between the two communities, I’d much prefer if these marches took place in areas and with residents who do welcome them. Residents in Greater Ardoyne want Loyal Order marches to take place elsewhere.
One realistic proposal for a solution does not involve banning, restricting Loyal Order marches or for that matter causing offence to the Greater Ardoyne community. Both communities could be enhanced by the proper development of the [alternative route proposed by GARC] into a Grade A thoroughfare. Everyone including, the Irish, British Governments and the Parades Commission are aware of the proposal. If adopted, the project could be financed by the billions of taxpayers money used in past and future Policing operations which facilitate sectarian marches through Ardoyne. If the project was adopted by local residents groups, the North/West Belfast Parades Forum and the Loyal Orders, it would greatly benefit the working class in both communities. The thoroughfare links two Loyalist/Unionist areas at Harmony Bridge, where the Loyal Orders could parade in excess of normal parading dates without any objections from the Catholic/Nationalist and Republican community.