The period following September’s mass Orange demonstration in Belfast commemorating the signing of the Ulster Covenant the event leading to Ireland’s Nakba, the partition of the country and generations of violence, colonial rule and sectarian division was followed by widespread expressions of relief and hope for the future.

There had been no violence. The Orange Order had said they were sorry for the hurt feelings of nationalists. They had even spoken to a priest. By and large they had obeyed the determination of the Parades Commission and, aside from the usual demonstrations of sectarian hatred outside two churches and one bandsman urinating on a church, things had gone well.

But things were bound to go well. The determination that the Orange Order “obeyed” was written by themselves. The sequence of events was as follows. The Loyalists had a clear run on the 12th July demonstrations. Parade Commission determinations were minimal and Sinn Fein mobilized across the North to police any protests. One Loyalist band went viral on the internet doing a war dance outside a Catholic church and singing the sectarian “famine song”. All this is perfectly routine, other than exposure on the internet.

The Parades Commission banned the Shankill band from an upcoming parade and banned all other bands from playing outside the church. The outcome was an upsurge in loyalist violence led by the paramilitary UVF, political support for the loyal orders by the Unionist parties, including First Minister, Peter Robinson, and mass defiance of the ban, alongside a tide of publicly expressed sectarian hatred astonishing in its virulence.

The new determination from the Parades Commission echoed word for word the Orange Order press statement indicating how they would conduct themselves indeed it was the protest by residents that was constrained. In the meantime a Stormont debate had seen unionists politicians unite in defence of loyalists and in sectarian jeering at their opponents.

There is nothing new in any of this. The Parades Commission regularly seek to inhibit the worst excesses of Orangeism, only to be met with Orange uprisings and rapid retreats by the state last year’s riots in North Belfast and the UVF attack on Short Strand come to mind.

In reality the only people to support the Parades Commission are the nationalists, including the Catholic Church and Sinn Fein, despite its totally undemocratic operation. The latest debacle is almost bound to see its demise.

It’s on the behind the scenes deals on a replacement for the Commission that the hopes of the nationalists rest. The last stitch­-up would have made most trade union demonstrations illegal and cleared the sectarian ones. It collapsed because it contained a commitment to talks with nationalist groups. Now the Orange Order have said that they are sorry that nationalists are upset. They have allowed districts flexibility to talk if they wish to a decision that ran alongside the receipt of a substantial peace grant from Europe. They have had quiet conversations with Catholic priests. The Unionist political leadership have united behind the Loyal orders ­what they want they will get.

Sinn Fein have been outsmarted yet again. They thought the deal meant talks with them. The Orange Order will decide who they speak to. They hoped their call for “respect” would lead to constraints on the marches. The Orange Order will decide the arrangements for marches. The Shinners are discomfited, but no­-one will care. The Catholic church, as the second largest sectarian group in the North, will be delighted to strike deals.

Behind the issue of Sinn Fein saving face there is the real issue. All the convulsions since the start of the peace process were about limiting the behavior of the Loyalists. They were always going to march and now they will continue to march with little in the way of constraint.

Yet the Orange Order is a sectarian organization. All aspects of demonstrations from the bonfires on are filled with raw sectarian hatred. They are committed to ensuring the continued sectarian division of Northern workers. The danger of major sectarian violence can only increase as austerity bites and the struggle for sectarian division of resources increases.

With the Covenant celebrations we have a mass declaration that Ulster is British and will remain so. We also have a declaration that the mechanism of British rule will continue to be Unionist dominion and sectarian intimidation.

Sinn Fein and the Nationalists facilitate this. That makes them part of the problem.

Socialist Democracy (Ireland), October bulletin


When errors in tendering for main line rail services in Britain were found to lead to new costs of £40 million there was a major political storm.

When it was found that a massive con had led to the reemployment by the new police service of over 1000 former RUC members, retired as a result of the Patten Report in the most generous redundancy packet in history, and that it had cost over £100 million, there was hardly a ripple in the North of Ireland.

The DUP, fresh from the loyalist triumph of the Ulster covenant centenary, brushed aside Sinn Fein complaints. The police lacked experienced officers to combat terrorism, they claimed. We should be thankful that the RUC officers were willing to accept another sack of money. What was £100 million or so to ensure security?

Chief Constable Matt Baggot gave a good-natured shrug of his shoulders. Mistakes had been made and with the benefit of hindsight things could have been done differently.

Sinn Fein could only splutter. Questions needed to be answered. The new recruits should have been trained up.

Sinn Fein were unable to put the real case. The enormous sums spent in the Patton reforms were meant to sanitize a force with a long history of torture, of assassination and endemic collaboration with loyalist death squads. On the strength of Patten Sinn Fein supported the St. Andrews agreement that holds up the current administration and offered unconditional support for the police. They have gone on to call on their supporters to collaborate with the police in tracking down republican militants.

Now the audit committees report shows that the reform was largely blunted and that the RUC culture survived. This was especially the case in enquiries into state killings. “Retired” officers here, busy investigating crimes alleged to have been committed by their colleagues, were earning so much that they were given help with tax avoidance by the police!

Sinn Fein cannot admit this. It is no longer possible for them to change direction. What their leader, Martin McGuinness, says now in the face of growing unionist triumphalism, is that we are all on a journey on the road to peace and that unionism has not caught up with the Shinners.

But the unionists have no journey to make. They were bribed but they didn’t stay bribed. Bribes didn’t stop the UVF rioting. They didn’t stop the Orange Order bigots pumping out their usual bile. It did not restrain unionist politicians.

It is Sinn Fein who have been on a one-way journey. They can only hope that the universal culture of bribery and corruption that they have spawned will keep the unstable settlement afloat.
John McAnulty, 4 October 2012