The Twelfth in Ireland
Triangle of hate – or is it a quadrilateral?
16 July 2017
The DUP-Conservative party pact in Britain led to a greater than usual focus on Orange demonstrations in Ireland and to expressions of horror and disgust at what was observed. There was widespread horror at the expressions of sectarian and racist hatred around the Orange celebrations, combined with incredulity at the impunity of the organisers in relation to fire safety and pollution laws and the collaboration of local councils in paying grants and storing wood.
In response to criticism MP Emma Pengelly fulfilled her role as the Kellyanne Conway of the DUP. The mob were expressing their culture. It was the freedom of expression guaranteed in a liberal democracy. In any case the British left were just the same when they hoisted placards denouncing the DUP. This is standard Loyalist fare. They can hardly oppose sectarianism, so they claim that everyone is sectarian.
In this unionism has an unlikely supporter. The local Socialist party choose the day after the loyalist Woodstock of sectarianism to proclaim yet again that sectarianism came from all sides. They and their friends in the trade union bureaucracy regularly sanctify themselves as non-sectarian while proclaiming neutrality at its actual expression.
A more clear-headed analysis was presented by the socialist Richard Seymour. Drawing on his own boyhood experience, he describes the mix around the bonfire; the drunken sectarian mob, the paramilitaries in the shadows, who enforce sectarianism with a mixture of murder and intimidation. They stood in a triangle of hatred with the bowler-hatted Orange Order and unionist parties. Local TV glossed over the frequent violence and presented a picture of harmless cultural Orangefest. One important element of the triangle is deniability. The unionist parties claim that they have nothing to do with the Loyal Orders. They in turn say they have nothing to do with the bonfires or have any responsibility for the marching bands, frequently recruited directly from paramilitary groups.
Dr Pangloss and the optimistic scenario
Local nationalist commentator Brian Feeney offered the most optimistic scenario. The Loyal Orders are declining in numbers and have less popular support. The state has gently intervened to calm the most violent flashpoints. Although the exhibitions at the bonfires are disappointing, we can look forward to a calm future.
There are two faults with this position. It ignores the role of Sinn Fein and the and the Catholic Church in policing the nationalist working class and preventing protest. It also ignores the role of the British. Very gentle pressure against the most violent loyalists is accompanied by a torrent of bribes. For example, it cost a £50 million bribe to the loyalists and “balancing” restrictions on Republican marches to guarantee a peaceful march at Belfast's Ardoyne interface.
It turns out that the triangle of hatred is actually a quadilateral. The constant flow of cash and the manoeuvring of police and the undemocratic Parades Commission underline the constant presence of the state. The British solution to the Irish question is an attempt to establish peace while preserving partition and sectarian division.
This explains the inability to apply any restraint to the use of flags and emblems as methods of intimidation, to the racist and sectarian slogans, to the impunity applied to fire regulations and pollution laws. It even explains the constant flow of grants to the bonfire builders.
This year was especially farcical. Belfast Council was discovered to be storing bonfire materials, some of which were stolen. The materials were stolen back by the UDA, a paramilitary group in open alliance with the DUP and in receipt of millions of public funds, and were stored in a public car park, taken over with no comment or action from the police. The council was granted an injunction to restrict the further growth in the size of the enormous fires. One group breached the order without any state response. Another group complied by building two fires.
The farce reached its height when the fires were lit. In the past homes have burnt down with the state standing to one side. On this occasion a fire beside an apartment block in Belfast threatened conflagration. The Fire Brigade, as is traditional, ignored the bonfire and sprayed down the apartments. The result was cracked windows and warped frames. A demand from residents for compensation led to an immediate denial of responsibility from the Northern Ireland Office. As they are responsible for the chain of collusion that led to the damage, it is hard to see what grounds the denial is based on.
Back to the ‘50s?
The end result of British sponsorship of Orangeism would be a return to the society that existed before the troubles - relatively peaceful but utterly sectarian. Ongoing exasperation from the nationalist population and growing political instability make this a pipedream.