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Debate: No Orange feet on O'Connell Street!

Brian Hughes, who critiqued our coverage of the Dublin riot, provides an article presenting his own views

By Brian Hughes

10 March 2006

A march organised by Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) in Dublin on Saturday, February 25, ended in a riot. The FAIR organisers had a field day as far as most of the media was concerned. They were the innocent victims whose right to march was thwarted by republicans. Page after page in the mainstream press and radio concentrated on the violence that ensued. Already calls have been made by Dublin City councillors for the number of marches on O’Connell Street to be limited and to find out if the organisers of the protest against FAIR can be held legally responsible for the violence that ensued.

Now that the dust has cleared, so to speak, from the actual disturbances, one of the areas that most interest me is the reaction of Sinn Fein to the march and the counter demonstration.

Dublin Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe, February 28, on the Sinn Fein website:

“The events in Dublin city centre last Saturday were an absolute disgrace. Those who took part misused the name of Irish republicanism and Irish nationalism but they were anything but Irish republicans or Irish nationalists in the real sense. This was a tiny and totally unrepresentative minority, a mixture of people on the fringes of micro-political groups, football hooligans and drink-fuelled opportunists. They were a rag-bag who saw an opportunity to create havoc and took it.”

Strong words indeed and in the 1970s and 1980s, this was the sort of remark that would have been uttered by the SDLP, the Catholic Church, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or the then Democratic Left. None of the protesters were republicans, according to Sean Crowe. Indeed they were “rag-bag”.

And what do you with “rag-bag”?

Mr Crowe goes on to say: 

“We believe it is the right of all citizens of this island to march down the main thoroughfare of the capital city -- no matter what part of the island they live on. We also believe in the right of people to hold peaceful counter demonstrations. However, we believe that both of these rights come with responsibilities. On one hand marchers must not engage in sectarian or abusive behaviour and on the other that counter demonstrators must refrain from physically engaging with those marchers”

And he also says: 
“Unlike those who misused our National Flag last weekend, we take seriously the message of the Tricolour -- unity and equality between Orange and Green.”

And finally, Mr Crowe argues: 
“Sinn Féin made our position quite clear that we wanted people to ignore this march. We instructed our membership not to go anywhere near it.”

That’s it, a provocative and sectarian march by FAIR, who don’t even have the political honesty to insert the words “Protestants or Loyalists” into their title, should be allowed to march through the centre of Dublin and, according to Sinn Fein, people should ignore it. Now that’s what I call leadership, or rather, the complete absence of leadership

This line of argument simply doesn’t stand up, unless Sinn Fein’s reaction is aimed at the leadership of the DUP. To try and follow the logic of Sinn Fein, if we don’t oppose this loyalist march, then the DUP leadership will some how thank us for it. After all the years of a sectarian state, does Sinn Fein still not get it? The DUP exists for one main purpose only – that is to defend a sectarian state. Platitudes from Sinn Fein are treated with contempt, unless Sinn Fein goes away and the bulk of nationalists accept a sectarian state. Or, in Mr Paisley’s language: 
"wear sackcloth and ashes ... until the sackcloth and ashes wear out… for all they did during the 30 years of the Troubles in the province.”

It’s interesting that in a Sinn Féin submission to the review of parades in October, 1996, they said: 
“Marches should not be organised through districts where it is obvious that the local community will find the marches offensive.”

Never mind the local community; it was quite obvious from the airwaves of Irish radio stations, in the days before the march, that a vast majority of listeners found this march to be offensive. What else could a march, whose members have links to loyalist paramilitaries, be anything other than offensive? They wanted to march though O’Connell Street with loyalist bands and try to claim that this was not provocative. Indeed the march was to take place in an area of Dublin where working class people were slaughtered by loyalist bombs,

It’s also quite obvious from the riot that followed, that the protesters were badly organised. Some of them also hurled sectarian abuse and disgracefully launched a physical attack on RTE reporter Charlie Bird – calling him an “Orange bastard”. The protest turned into a clash between the demonstrators and Gardai with property being attacked and cars burnt. This is all shock, horror indeed. How many times did such scenarios occur in the North following loyalist parades or incursions by the British army and RUC into nationalist areas? Hundreds of times, thousands of times?  Did every rioter behave with complete political integrity or did some behave in a thuggish manner? We can criticize some of the actions of the Dublin youths. But they were there on the day. They did not ignore a loyalist march. And for doing so they are described as “rag-bag”. Shame on you Sinn Fein for so quickly starting to use the language of the bourgeoisie.

It’s also quite clear from reports of the march that the Gardai did baton charge protesters in an attempt to clear a path for the loyalist parade. The same thing has happened in the past on the Garvaghy Road and Ardoyne – to name but a few places. The only difference being that it was RUC/PSNI batons that were used on people’s heads. The Dublin Government will facilitate sectarian parades through the heart of Dublin. It will also in the long run attempt to crush any resistance to Loyalism. The “rag-bag” will not be tolerated. 

The question must also be asked where were the trade union movement, civil rights bodies and the forces who opposed the Iraq war? They should have been present in their thousands, sitting down in O’Connell Street, and saying quite clearly, No Orange marches in Dublin, No Orange marches anywhere. This is not a denial of democracy, but rather standing up for democracy and opposing those forces who want a return to a sectarian state. 

The Sinn Fein line on this march is a political disgrace and it also sends out a depressing message to young nationalists in the North. “The Orange tradition must be treated with equality with the Green tradition.” We are being asked to respect the loyalist sectarian monster. 

I would much rather as a socialist listen to the words of a protestor in Dublin that day, whose words were quoted on the Indymedia website.

 “At the corner of Cathal Brugha Street I heard a man with an English accent saying that allowing them to march was "like letting the KKK march in Alabama". 



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