By Jack Holland
The marching season is tramping toward us with its usual ominous air. Already the smell of burning petrol is wafting from Portadown and Garvaghy Road, where two weekends ago there was a nasty riot.
Once again, we are reminded of the nature of the Ulster crisis and how, fundamentally, it is about territory. That is, it is about territory and who has the right to march on it.
It is no coincidence that the crisis began, 30 years ago this August, with a march from Coalisland to Dungannon by the newly formed Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. Another march further deepened it on Oct. 5 that same year in Derry. On January 1969, loyalists ambushed a student march from Belfast to Derry and set off several days of rioting. Then, on Aug. 12, 1969, the city’s Apprentice Boys parade lit the spark that set off the Ulster powder keg. We are still picking up the pieces.
To march in Northern Ireland is in effect to stake a claim on a piece of territory. The early civil rights marchers either did not realize or had forgotten this. They were operating on another level: trying to develop a new type of politics for Northern Ireland that was directed at securing legal and civil rights for Catholics. For them, marching was a way of drawing attention to the need for such rights. It was not a territorial initiative. But the loyalists who counter-marched saw it in traditional terms. NICRA was simply a bunch of Catholics/Republicans trying to assert a claim to areas which were Protestant. The initial NICRA march from Coalisland was originally planned to end in Market Square, Dungannon, but a Unionist MP at Stormont, John Taylor, who was then making a name for himself, declared that the town square was
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