Covenant marches promise endless sectarianism
The period following September's mass Orange demonstration in Belfast commemorating the signing of the Ulster covenant - the event leading to Ireland's nakba, the partition of the country and generations of violence, colonial rule and sectarian division - was followed by widespread expressions of relief and hope for the future.
There had been no violence. The Orange had said they were sorry for the hurt feelings of nationalists. They had even spoken to a Priest. By and large they had obeyed the determination of the Parades Commission and, aside from the usual demonstrations of sectarian hatred outside two churches and one bandsman urinating on a church, things had gone well.
But things were bound to go well. The determination that the Orange "obeyed" was written by themselves.
The sequence of events was as follows: The Loyalists had a clear run on the 12th July demonstrations. Parade Commission determinations were minimal and Sinn Fein mobilized across the North to police any protests. One Loyalist band went viral on the internet doing a war dance outside a Catholic church and singing the sectarian "famine song". All this is perfectly routine, other than exposure on the internet.
The Parades commission banned the Shankill band from an up-coming parade and banned all other bands from playing outside the church.
The outcome was an upsurge in loyalist violence led by the paramilitary UVF, political support for the loyal orders by the Unionist parties, including First minister Peter Robinson and mass defiance of the ban, alongside a tide of publicly expressed sectarian hatred astonishing in its virulence.
The new determination from the Parades Commission echoed word for word the Orange press statement indicating how they would conduct themselves - indeed it was the protest by residents that was constrained. In the meantime a Stormont debate had seen unionists politicians unite in defense of loyalists and in sectarian jeering at their opponents.
There is nothing new in any of this. The Parades Commission regularly seek to inhibit the worst excesses of Orangeism, only to be be met with Orange uprisings and rapid retreats by the state - last year's riots in North Belfast and the UVF attack on Short Strand come to mind.
In reality the only people to support the Parades Commission are the nationalists, including the Catholic Church and Sinn Fein, despite its totally undemocratic operation. The latest debacle is almost bound to see its demise.
It's on the behind the scenes deals on a replacement for the commission that the hopes of the nationalists rest. The last stitch-up would have made most trade union demonstrations illegal and cleared the sectarian ones. It collapsed because it contained a commitment to talks with nationalist groups. Now the Orange have said that they are sorry that nationalists are upset. They have allowed districts flexibility to talk if they wish to - a decision that ran alongside the receipt of a substantial peace grant from Europe. They have had quiet conversations with Catholic Priests. The Unionist political leadership have united behind the Loyal orders - what they want they will get.
Sinn Fein have been outsmarted yet again. They thought the deal meant talks with them. The Orange will decide who they speak to. They hoped their call for "respect" would lead to constraints on the marches. The Orange will decide the arrangements for marches. The Shinners are discomfited, but no-one will care. The Catholic church, as the second largest sectarian group will be delighted to strike deals.
Behind the issue of Sinn Fein saving face there is the real issue. All the convulsions since the start of the peace process were about limiting the behavior of the Loyalists. They were always going to march and now they will continue to march with little in the way of constraint.
Yet the Orange order is a sectarian organization. All aspects of demonstration from the bonfires on are filled with raw sectarian hatred. They are committed to ensuring the continued sectarian division of Northern workers. The danger of major sectarian violence can only increase as austerity bites and the struggle for sectarian division of resources increases.
With the Covenant celebrations we have a mass declaration that Ulster is British and will remain so. We also have a declaration that the mechanism of British rule will continue to be Unionist dominion and sectarian intimidation.
Sinn Fein and the Nationalists facilitate this. That makes them part of the problem.