Category: Archive

Editorial Marching into crisis

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The decision by the Parades Commission to allow an Apprentice Boys march through the Lower Ormeau Road on Easter Monday, April 16, has set the stage for yet another crisis, one with potential for violence built into it.

The Lower Ormeau has long been a flashpoint for sectarian violence. Over the years, the small Catholic community has been embattled amid the larger Protestant areas of Donegall Pass on one side and Annadale on the other. During the Troubles, it was the scene of several atrocities, including a pub bombing in May 1974 that claimed six lives, and a shooting attack on a betting shop in February 1992 that killed five, one of them only 15 years old. As well, there has been a steady series of sectarian assaults on the people who live there, including shooting attacks on homes, one of which drove out the family of Malachy McAllister and started them on their long odyssey to the U.S.

It is not surprising then that the residents in the Lower Ormeau should have strong objections to anything that smacks of loyalism or militant Protestantism, given their dire experience of it. In the early 1990s there were several tense confrontations between Orange marchers and nationalists. In one notorious occasion, the police more or less corralled the entire Lower Ormeau community, blockading them in their own streets, to allow the Orange parade to take place. In another case, locals protesting passively were manhandled and dragged off their road by the police so that the Orangemen could pass.

In the light of this sorry history, reasonable people might conclude that it would be better if there were no more marches at all down the Lower Ormeau Road. But the history and composition of Northern Ireland being what it is, such a hope is purely utopian. The reality is that the majority community has long-established traditions that they wish to maintain. In order to do so, however, they should be expected to accommodate to some extent the feelings of the local Catholics. The Parades Commission is the vehicle for mediating between the two.

For five years, there have been no Orange marches down the Lower Ormeau. The decision to allow one this year comes after the Apprentice Boys agreed to march at 8:20 a.m. when normally there would be few people about. They have also agreed to allow only one band in their parade, which will not play any music. Nor can the parade organizers permit the usual gangs of followers who cause most of the problems to accompany them.

These concessions show that there is a willingness on the Apprentice Boys to compromise, which is always welcome in the North. But the basic issue remains unresolved. The fact is, a consensus with the residents of the Lower Ormeau Road has not been reached, and in spite of this fact, the march has been allowed to go ahead. Marching without consensus can only lead to confrontation. The point of the commission surely is to avoid this. In this case at any rate it has failed in its duty.

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