Sinn Fein and the Orange Order:
‘Only the uniform was missing’
15th July 2004
The July 12th skirmish at Ardoyne in Belfast as Orange marchers were forced past the nationalist area is of real significance. It signposts the short-term future development of the sectarian colony in the North of Ireland and indicates a new role for Sinn Fein as one of the guardians of sectarian structures that hold up the colony..
It is worth reminding ourselves once again of the nature of Orange marches. They are not, as popularly described, Protestant marches. Instead they are rabid demonstrations of rabid sectarian hatred and bigotry, with marchers and supporters openly glorifying the loyalist death squads and the murder of Catholics.
The reason these provocations take place is because of the role of the state, which has traditionally granted immunity to the Orangemen, with the police spearheading the marches and pushing them through.
A new development established after the signing of the Good Friday agreement was the Parades Commission. This quango fulfils the role of the ‘great white father’ of British colonial history, deciding arbitrarily if marches may proceed or not. The only criterion is to balance the ‘perception’ of the nationalists of sectarian insult against the Orange cultural ‘right’ to make the insult. The sectarian nature of the marches is never examined and the practice is that the marches take place, except in situations where the Orange are so bigoted that they refuse to go through the motions of appearing to discuss through various mediation agencies the cultural nature of their bigotry.
So in the vast majority of situations the new society is remarkably like the old. The Orange marches take place and the state spearheads the marches and uses force against residents who object. The fighting in the Ardoyne is part of a long tradition. In this case the Parades commission supported the Orange march, making the caveat that the drunken supporters, with their sectarian chants and flags glorifying the death squads, should not be part of the return march. In the event the courts ruled that the commissions rules did not apply to supporters – this in a state that was able to ban nationalist demonstrations from Belfast city centre for 30 years! The RUC – sorry! – the new PSNI police service duly pushed them through with hand to hand fighting.
The one new element in the situation was the role of a thin layer of leading figures in Sinn Fein and the IRA. They too were engaged in hand to hand fighting – not with the RUC, but with their own members and supporters.
The reason for this new role – one local republican sarcastically congratulated leading Provo Gerry Kelly, remarking that all he lacked was the police uniform – lies in the realities of the post Good Friday political landscape. The majority unionist leadership of the Paisleyite DUP have demanded that the IRA disband before talks even begin. British PM Blair has indicated that if no agreement is reached over the summer he will meet the main demands of the Paisleyites, formally collapse the GFA and disband the suspended Stormont assembly.
Under pressure from the Irish bourgeoisie and the Bush White House to maintain capitalist stability and to prove their suitability to eventually join government in the southern Irish state, Adams has come up with a new policy which he calls ‘putting the DUP to the test’.
The main element of this test is that the DUP have to do precisely nothing. The test is that Sinn Fein has to placate the DUP in the hope that the DUP will agree to coalition government in return for IRA disbandment. One element that might help the mood music is a quiet marching season, and so a series of behind-the-door deals have been done to ensure this – for example, an earlier coat-trailing exercise in the Springfield road area had been banned by the Parades commission following the rawest forms of sectarian taunting last year, then went ahead after two members of the local nationalist community organisation, members of Sinn Fein, met the Orangemen.
In the meantime the policy from the DUP is ‘no more pushover unionism’. They and their friends in the RUC/PSNI have a new spring in their step and tend to ensure that the outcome is that the Orange marches go where they wish except in the most high-profile cases. The result is the Ardoyne fiasco, followed immediately by an impromptu unofficial victory march by Loyalists and police through Lurgan.
The Provos did not mean to find themselves fighting their followers. Janus-like, they had told the rank and file that the task was to defend the area while also being involved in diplomacy with the British whose outcome was to be that the Orange marched with some restrictions on their followers. Only one of these contradictory positions could be true and in the explosion of violence the republican leadership could no longer prevaricate and had to act in line with their actual policy – accommodation with imperialism.
Despite their embarrassment the Provos seem set to ensure a quiet summer in the North of Ireland. The summer will be quiet not because there is less sectarian provocation – indeed there is a great deal more – but because they are determined to smother the protests of nationalist workers. However all is not well. The hope of an eventual deal with the DUP is really a pipedream. The outcome is likely to be that the republicans are squeezed for concessions only to see the current goal of their policy – a northern coalition government with a Paisleyite leadership – fade before their eyes.
In the meantime the situation can only grow more unstable. Even a respectable bourgeois figure such as Martin Morgan, SDLP candidate in the last European elections, is suggesting that the SDLP withdraw from the police boards given their traditional role in pushing the Orange through. Residents of the Ardoyne may reflect ruefully that, while sections of bourgeois nationalism call for withdrawal of support from the police, leaders of Sinn Fein are acting as if they were the police.