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 defense 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 no­one  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