As promised in my last post, I will now speak about the issue of parades in the north of Ireland, an unresolved and controversial subject which all parties at the Stormont Agreement failed to address in a concrete manner.
Parades are a very important culture issue in Irish life, to the extent that there exists a Parades Commission (most likely soon to be replaced with another very similar commission with a different title). According to the Commission, around seventy percent of parades in the north are held by Protestant loyalists, five percent by nationalists, with the remainder being the types of parades that a sensible person might want to attend in the hopes of having a bit of fun. Again, space limitations constrict me from giving a full explanation on the history and controversy of parades, but for starters, I will speak a little about the most prominent parade enthusiasts, the Loyal Order Of The Orange, or Orangemen, as they are commonly called. Please don’t get your knickers in a twist just yet (plenty of time for that later), as I am trying to be magnanimous despite my better nature.
The Orange Order, a Masonic-style, Protestant-only fraternal organization, was founded in 1795, sworn to defend Protestant supremacy in the north of Ireland. The Order takes its name in honour of King William of Orange, whose army defeated the army of Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, thus paving the way for a whole lot of fighting over sod.
Of late, the Orange Order (in some areas) has opened its lodges to the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), and entered into community outreach programs with Catholic youths in order to explain its historical origins and significance. In my own opinion, this is an effort on the part of the loyalist community to construct a peaceful dialogue with their nationalist neighbors.
The Order is most infamous for its triumphalist marches through predominately nationalist neighborhoods, specifically on the twelfth of July (King Billy’s big win at the Boyne), Many residents of these areas simply leave their homes at this time to avoid the violence that sometimes ensues. The Order has also been implicated in assisting loyalist paramilitary groups involved with the murders of innocent civilians. For anyone who has ever seen an Orange Order march, particularly in Belfast, it is a sickening affair to behold, akin to the KKK parading in an African American neighborhood or the U.S. Army holding a parade at Wounded Knee. Tradition be damned, these marches, along with similar displays by the Apprentice Boys in Derry, are nothing more than taunting at the least and intimidation in the extreme as the norm. While some progress has been made in recent years to prohibit Orange marches in particularly sensitive areas, some feel that this is a restriction on their civil rights. As for the flip side of the coin, many nationalists are equally guilty of intimidation and violence in loyalist areas. Fear of the “other” being the underlying factor, would it not be best to hold your celebrations of past “victories” in a suitable time, manner, and place?
Fear begat this, and fear should be its end. Fear of a continuous, endless, and ultimately useless conflict. A conflict which originated in a country which has no legitimate claim on the lives of any of the free people of the Emerald Isle.