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Editorial Stuck in the Drumcree mud

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

There could be no greater contrast imaginable, perhaps, than that which occurred over the first weekend of 1999 in Ireland. As one part of the country embraced the euro, in the North, thousands of Orangemen gathered in Portadown to yet again try and enforce their will on their Catholic neighbors who are objecting to their so-called "right" to parade down Garvaghy Road.

After having caused havoc every summer since 1995, the diehards, prevented from following their usual route in 1998, have clung to the side of a wet field near Drumcree church, where their parade traditionally starts, refusing to go away until they get their way.

Meanwhile, a few miles to the south, the rest of Ireland moved into a new political and economic era as the country joined with 10 other nations of the European Union in a bold experiment to give the continent a common currency, the first that Europe has had since the fall of the Roman Empire.

Ireland has long shown that it is able to take its place alongside other the European nations as an equal and enthusiastic partner, imbuing it with a newly found self-confidence that was often sadly lacking in its relationship with its nearest neighbor, Britain.

Up North it’s been a very different story. Since its foundation, Northern Ireland has been the Jurassic Park of European politics — a "little Ulster," sequestered from the mainstream of political and cultural life that swept through Europe especially after the end of World War II. Provincial and proud of it. No better symbol could it find than the pig-headed, bowler-hatted Orangeman. There he sits in a wet muddy field with the rain pouring down, defying everything, especially common sense and common decency, simply to go a few hundred yards down a nondescript piece of road where no one wants him. And all because some Dutch prince won a few battles 300 years ago.

Unfortunately, this behavior passed for normal in Northern Ireland, and still does in some quarters. Witness the First Minister-elect and Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble’s remarks this week when he demanded not that the Orangemen should go home and stop bothering people, but that the parades’ commission, which adjudicates on the rights and wrongs of controversial marches, should be disbanded. Trimble, who is a member of the Orange Order, has proven yet again that he is an Orangeman first and leader of the new government second. It is hard to believe that the same man only a few weeks before at the Nobel ceremony was lecturing the audience on the virtues of the Enlightenment. These are virtues that clearly have escaped the notice of the vast majority of his fellow Orangemen.

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In spite of the Good Friday Agreement and all the changes that it entails, it is hard to avoid the feeling that a large part of Northern Ireland remains stuck in the past — and the past is a muddy field called Drumcree. With every rainy day that goes by it gets muddier and muddier. It is the job of Trimble as first minister to lead them out of that field, not continue to justify the stubborn and divisive behavior that keeps them stuck there.

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