Category: Archive

Apprentice Boys parade rerouted from Belfast’s Lower Ormeau

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — The first marching season of the new millennium is under way with renewed fears of violence as the sixth controversial Drumcree march approaches.

It would be wrong, however, to believe that nothing has been happening since last August to try to resolve what is, outside the main constitutional debate, the single most divisive issue in Northern Ireland.

There have been plenty of attempts, sponsored by the British government and independent mediation groups, to bridge the gap between the loyalist marching orders, who believe they have the right to parade wherever they want, and the nationalist residents groups who oppose marches through their neighborhoods.

The sad reality, however, is that none of these efforts have achieved much and may merely have served to deepen divisions and increase suspicion and local rivalries.

On Monday, the Apprentice Boys’ first march of the year was rerouted away from the mainly nationalist Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast. Thirteen people are still at trial in Belfast for alleged offenses arising out of another Apprentice Boys parade last August.

Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo

Subscribe to one of our great value packages.

The Parades Commission, which oversees the marches, said it was "impressed" at the "dignity" with which the Apprentice Boys accepted the rerouting, under protest. This immediately sparked fears in the nationalist community that the commission is again going to permit a parade through the area later this year.

The Apprentice Boys submitted a letter of protest at police lines that had been erected at the point where their intended route was cut off by a Parades Commission ruling.

The loyal order’s spokesman, Tommy Cheevers, asked if the nationalist residents are going to "tell me that my culture is not welcome here whatsoever. I can’t go into dialogue to talk about no parades. There has to be some accommodation."

John Gormley of the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community said that after a year of "dialogue," the sides were still no closer to reaching agreement. "There is no point in the Apprentice Boys going into a room with us and merely saying they demand a parade," Gormley said.

The British chairman of the Commission, Tony Holland, said that although he is worried, he still hopes for fruitful dialogue.

Gerard Rice, the main spokesman for the LOCC, outlined what has taken place since last year’s violent scenes in the area, when nationalist residents were batoned by the police to clear the road for an Apprentice Boys parade in August.

"They needn’t try telling anybody they’ve had meaningful dialogue with us over the last eight months, because it’s been a frustrating, time-consuming farce," he said.

Rice is one of 13 defendants facing obstruction charges arising out of last August’s Apprentice Boys parade. Since then, he has been attending a series of meetings with a delegation purporting to speak for the Apprentice Boys, although he is inclined to believe the process was doomed from the start.

"After the events of last August, we had two initial meetings with a two-person delegation claiming to speak for the Apprentice Boys. Both were purely recriminatory," he said. "We put a paper to them offering them a march over the bridge, into the Lower Ormeau area, but not a full march down the road. This wasn’t too popular with some of the relatives of loyalist murders, who live in the two streets that would have been affected, but it was a serious offer."

"We also offered to host exhibitions and speakers here about the Apprentice Boys order, their history, traditions and culture, but said it would have to be a two-way street because we also wanted access to their community to explain our views."

That offer, Rice said, was dismissed out of hand. He said several subsequent meetings were likewise fruitless.

"We feel our papers were generous and detailed, but the process isn’t moving," Rice said. "We suspect the game plan has always been to give the impression of talking to us, while not really talking at all."

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese