It's Silly Season Again -- 12th of July
Marching Season & Contentious Parades
A peculiar aspect of Northern Ireland's troubles is seen every summer with the arrival of marching season. While most parts of the world enjoy and look forward to a parade, here they are a source of fear, conflict and violence. Parades are part of the cultural tradition in Ireland, as well as Great Britain, but have developed into a form of political expression. The vast majority of Northern Ireland's , nearly 4,000, parades are "Unionist", and hence anti-Catholic. Many Unionists see this issue as a means to destroy the fragile peace.
In this segregated statelet, Loyalist parades are invariably routed through Catholic neighborhoods and many recognize aspects of the Irish struggle for freedom from Great Britain. Unionists, however, insist on the right to march wherever they want, whenever they want. It is a demonstration of their dominance in this society. The Unionist marches are organized by such groups as the Loyal Orange Order, the Black Perceptory and Apprentice Boys, fraternal/religious lodges, whose membership is closed to Catholics. These loyal defenders of the union with Great Britain argue that their parades are part and parcel of their cultural tradition. Opponents agree, but stress that it is a tradition of discrimination, oppression and violence against Catholics and that their purpose is both "triumphalist" and intimidating, similar to the Ku Klux Klan parading through a black community.
The marching season runs from April through November, but hits its peak during the July 12th fortnight, celebrating the victory of Protestant King Billy, over Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1609. Hundreds of thousands on Orangemen and their followers set out to march through every Catholic town, ghetto and enclave in the six counties. Tens of thousands of Catholics try to block them, either in the courts, or on the streets. The 93% Protestant RUC police force and British troops, traditionally, force the marches through, as they too, are intimidated by the force of numbers.
The most contentious parades are those along Garvaghy Road to Drumcree Church, near Portadown and along the Lower Ormeau Road in south Belfast - both are internationally recognized flashpoints, attended by human rights monitors, and both are capable of sparking province-wide rioting.
In July 1996, the Drumcree march was banned, but the authorities caved-in after Protestants rioted and forced the march through, against the resident's will. In 1998, just a month after the Good Friday Peace Agreement that march was again banned and rioting resulted. Over 150 Catholic, or mixed family (Catholic-Protestant) homes were firebombed and three children burned to death, trapped in their bedroom. Despite this tragedy the Orangemen marched down the Lower Ormeau Road the next day, while thousands of loyalists protested and attacked security forces at Drumcree.
In July 1998, Orangemen started a protest vigil at Drumcree Church, vowing never to be stopped again, while sectarian attacks have claimed dozens more Catholic lives. In the past year, implementation of the peace agreement has stalled-out by the refusal of Unionists to form a government that includes Sinn Fein members, unless the IRA disarms, first. Suspicious of Unionist duplicity, the IRA refuses to hand in its weapons.
Those opposed to power-sharing with Catholics would like nothing better than to provoke a breach of the fragile ceasefire and there is no better issue than that of the bitterly-disputed Orange Order marches.
As July 12th approaches, thousands of "normal" people book their holidays to get away from the madness, while others, less fortunate, are forced to stay and endure. It is a safe bet that, again this year, more people will be killed in the grand tradition of the Loyalist parades through Northern Ireland's enduring flashpoints.