A resident’s analysis of events in north Belfast this week.
Greater Ardoyne has once again experienced the negative and violent Twelfth when the RUC/PSNI invade the entire area in their thousands to enable two Anti-Catholic, Anti-Nationalist and Anti-Republican Orange Order marches through our community. The night before witnessed the ‘traditional’ 11th of July Bonfires in Protestant/Unionist and Loyalist areas across North Belfast in which the Irish national flag, effigies of Republican Patriots, White Coffins and even a large Statue of the Virgin Mary were placed in prominent view and set fire to commemorate the ‘Glorious Twelfth’. At the corner of the Upper Crumlin Road, between the Nationalist/Republican Ardoyne and Ligoniel areas this year. A large bonfire menacingly sits adorned with a chilling sign; ‘Fuck Ardoyne - SCUM’.
The Parades Commission had already announced it’s determinations in respect of granting the two Orange parades permission to march through Ardoyne on the Twelfth. One in the morning and another in the afternoon. ‘The afternoon parade would have to march back up the Crumlin Road before 4pm, or not march at all’. In response to the determination, the North/West Belfast Parades Forum, applied for a Judicial Review of the determination, which they lost. The Orange Order and a number of Unionist Politicians issued media statements; threatening trouble and violence if their march time was not changed.
The North Belfast MP, Nigel Dodds said the Parades Commission had put the Police in an “extraordinarily difficult” position. “They [Parades Commission] issue their determinations and they issue calls for calm but they don’t explain anywhere why they did what they did. North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland said: “We will have to wait to find out if we have enough time left for a full judicial review given the parade is taking place on Thursday.” DUP Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said the ruling from the Commission would further stretch the PSNI.
“I am aware that senior officers are concerned about enforcing the latest ridiculous judgments of the Parades Commission. The Orange Order said; ‘the determination would not give them enough time to take part in festivities in the south of the city’.
Around 100 Loyalists protested at the junction of the Woodvale Rd and Twaddell Avenue against the determination. The effect of the statements and protests seriously increased tensions in Greater Ardoyne and surrounding areas, people began fearing another Drumcree-Style standoff. The focus of the media in the run-up to the Twelfth had been on the apparent inconvenience to the Orange Order by having to be back through Ardoyne, Mountainview and the Dales by 4pm. Were was the concern about the serious inconvenience that local residents would have to face as a result of unwanted Loyal Order parades?
The huge number of heavily-armed RUC/PSNI Personnel and armoured Land-Rovers surrounding and in the Greater Ardoyne area throughout the day creates it’s own problems because not only has the Unionist Police been directly and indirectly responsible for a number of deaths of Ardoyne residents. They were also behind orchestrating decades of oppression, arrests, internments, beatings and political imprisonment of hundreds of local people. The fact that they continue to ‘Police’ in the same political manner, in spite of the so-called Peace Process gives most residents serious causes for concern. Issues which cannot be separated from over 8,000 residents being hemmed into their homes/community by a Military-Style Curfews forcing unwanted sectarian marches through Ardoyne six times each year. The other massive problem is that the Twelfth is a Public Holiday, when everyone in the Greater Ardoyne area is off Work, Training Schemes, Colleges and Schools. With holidaying Teenagers, Students, Workers and Younger Residents enjoying long-deserved breaks and chilling. Those who can afford to usually leave the area to holiday elsewhere. These secterian parades cause untold damage to the local populace who for much of the other 364 days of the year who are peaceful.
Within seconds of arriving at the junction of the Woodvale Rd/Twaddle Avenue, dozens of Loyalist well-wishers greeted jubilant Orangemen and Bandsmen. The parade continued to the West Belfast Orange Hall, prior to joining the main Belfast demonstration travelling to the field at Barnett’s Demesne for a wider celebration of Protestant/Unionist and Loyalist culture. To commemorates the victory of Dutch King, (Protestant) William III over the English Monarch, (Catholic) James II in 1690, a battle fought on Irish soil which decided the future of Britain, Ireland and most of Europe for centuries to come. Even after the Orange parade had left, the heavy presence of the RUC/PSNI remained in and around Ardoyne. Apparently, the above battle had accomplished ‘Civil and Religious Liberty For All’. but in the context of the Greater Ardoyne community, we didn’t warrant it!
Between 3 and 4pm, around 15 Orangemen from the Ballysillan and Ligoniel Lodges left the field and were bussed the five miles back to the Woodvale. Where they disembarked to hundreds of cheering Loyalists to walk the contentious part of the Crumlin Road and through the Ardoyne community. As the parade passed through Ardoyne, the RUC/PSNI mobilised a huge security operation, which closed the road to everyone apart from them and the Orange marchers, effectively hemming in local people. This particular parade proved yet again to the people of Ardoyne and beyond that the Order and Political Police wanted to antagonise local residents. Sadly, a number of young people began stoning the Cops and burnt a car belonging to a local man.
Within an hour, over two thousand local residents and supporters attended a brief Rally organised by the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) in Ardoyne Avenue. Where they were notified that GARC intended to march around Ardoyne and onto the contested part of the Upper Crumlin Rd before re-entering Brompton Pk and dispersing in Ardoyne Avenue. The march was to demonstrate opposition to the unwelcome parades and to assert local rights and freedoms. In numerous statements and leaflets including a Public Meeting held the week before, GARC had appealed for calm, no rioting and a peaceful march.
A number of GARC representatives then went to the scene and with a megaphone appealed for the violence to cease, in order that our planned peaceful protest could proceed.
The Parades Commission had ruled that GARC could march on the Crumlin Road but when the parade reached the junction of Estorial Park and the Ardoyne Rd, a large line of RUC/PSNI personnel and armoured Land-Rovers blocked the way. A senior member of the British Police informed GARC that his members could not guarantee the safety of the marches. A local Solicitor and key GARC members remonstrated about the need to march and the Commission’s determination.
After legal arguments, the GARC march was ‘allowed’ to proceed unhindered on its planned route. During the confusion, some local and West Belfast criminals including, some State Agents and Informers who regularly ruin their own communities sneaked into the march as it made its way down the Ardoyne Road from Estorial Park. The RUC/PSNI then notified GARC that the march would be ‘fully protected’ from Loylists gathered at the Twaddell/Woodvale junction. However, it soon became clear that was not to be as the Policing Operation was totally inadequate to defend marchers from the hundreds, if not thousands, of Loyalists who had gathered. As the head of the parade entered Brompton Park, it’s middle was attacked with missiles as varied as Sticks, Bottles, Fireworks, Scaffolding Poles and even a set of step ladders taken from a Photographer.
To their credit, GARC’s stewards and others managed to get marchers, the majority of who behaved with dignity in the face of a premeditated attack orchestrated by visible UDA and UVF members. Some local hoods retaliated in kind, which is really regrettable but given their hatred towards community activism was not surprising. The same group repeatedly attacked RUC/PSNI lines long after GARC appealed to everyone to follow them to the arranged dispersal point in Ardoyne Avenue, half a mile away. Predictably, the small number of rioters grew at the top of Brompton Park until a large crowd engaged in serious trouble against the unchanged RUC, who responded with Plastic Bullets, Water Cannon and Baton Charges to snatch those rioting. Republicans also fired a number of live rounds at the RUC/PSNI towards midnight and no-one was was hurt. I cannot condemn the rioting as when a teenager myself, I regularly got involved in the same type of behaviour, however I will say that most of it was unwarranted and should have ended when asked to do so by Community Activists. As rioting only takes the focus away from the real issue that causes the problem, those who insist on marching where they are clearly not welcome. Likewise, as a former Combatant I can’t be hypocritical and challenge whoever fired at the British Police. As they can speak for themselves and usually do, suffice to say that armed attacks such as these are inevitable given the huge RUC/PSNI operation mounted in Ardoyne. They are also predictable as Partition and British Occupation remains in Ireland.
Over the past few days, the Greater Ardoyne community has returned to it’s normal peaceful self. Although, the RUC/PSNI have raided a number of homes and arrested some residents in connection with the riots and shooting incident. Strange how Loyalists attacked Republicans on Black Mountain recently with hammers, iron bars and hatchets. Incredibly, those responsible photographed themselves immediately afterwards and posted the photo on a number of Social Media Websites, but weeks later none have had their homes raided, property seized or charged and appeared in Court? Large numbers of RUC/PSNI are still evident on the streets as they attempt to lift those responsible.
The challenge for everyone in Greater Ardoyne and neighbouring Loyalist areas is to end the annual manifestation of sectarianism and violence. From my point of view, only an end to the six remaining Loyal Order parades through Ardoyne will help it stop. However, I am more than willing to meet, talk and debate with anyone including the Loyal Orders, Unionists, Loyalists, Community Leaders, Clergy and Politicians at any time to find a way forward. The question is, will they take this offer up, as the Orange Order did in Crumlin Village or will they hide away, hoping that a ‘resolution’ can be found without the approval of the Greater Ardoyne community...Only time will tell?