Category: Archive

Editorial The Orange peels

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

It was somewhat ironic that the Orangemen in Drumcree last Sunday were holding a commemorative church service to mark the 82nd anniversary of the Battle of the Somme before they left the church to be confronted by barbed-wire, anti-tank emplacements and trenches, all manned by British soldiers, alongside whom they once performed such heroic deeds in the Great War. But such is the position in which Ulster’s loyal sons so often find themselves: threatening disorder in the name of loyalty to the British crown, opposed to the very forces with which they identify.

As they peered through the barbed wire and the concrete blockades, it might have occurred to them that they were faced with something more frightening and disturbing than the British refusal to allow them to march past and annoy their Catholic neighbors. They were confronting, yet again, an enormous contradiction – one that has lain at the heart of Ulster loyalism since its earliest days. How can they profess to be loyal yet continue stubbornly to defy the laws of that authority to whom their loyalty is supposedly given?

In recent days, as loyalist violence spread and street disturbances rocked the Protestant areas of Belfast, loyalist gunmen have fired upon police patrols. In Carrickfergus, loyalist terrorists hurled a bomb through the window of a policeman’s home.

This is far from the first time that extremists have behaved more like the rebels they condemn than the stalwart supporters of British rule that they claim to be. In fact, the history of Northern Ireland is a history of threatened loyalist rebellion, right from the day that Sir Edward Carson scoffed that he would kick the crown into the Boyne if he had to in order to defend Ulster against Home Rule. So, there is nothing surprising in the current mini-rebellion that is going on in Northern Ireland.

The question must be asked, however, as to who is the target of the rebellion? The Rev. Ian Paisley, who has been behind so many such upheavals in his 30 years of rabble-rousing, has been down among the Orange men in Drumcree encouraging them to defy the authorities. His aim is clear: to embarrass and undermine the Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, just as years earlier he forced Captain Terence O’Neill out of office with the help of a loyalist bombing campaign, and just as, in 1974, he joined with the Protestant paramilitaries to bring about the collapse of the power-sharing executive.

The Drumcree campaign is in effect the anti-Belfast Agreement campaign in another guise. Defeated in the referendum, then at the polls in the assembly elections, those who are opposed to the settlement have taken their opposition on to the streets.

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John Taylor, Trimble’s deputy, has warned that the situation could develop into a repeat of 1974, when mayhem on the streets forced the power-sharing government to resign. So far, however, the protests have been on a much smaller scale, thanks to the fact that to date the mainstream loyalist paramilitary organizations have not thrown their weight behind them. That could change if the disturbances continue to spread. Waverers within Trimble’s own party unhappy with the Belfast Agreement could desert him if things deteriorate.

In Thursday’s meeting between the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Orange leaders, he must make clear his government’s determination not to give in to bullying tactics. But he must also remind them that the only way out of this for all sides is to replace confrontation with dialogue. That message must be heard loud and clear above the beat of the lambeg drum.

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