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Ardoyne parade deal: Orange and Green capital unite to restore reaction

3 October 2016

Despite protests a sectarian Orange march was forced through the Ardoyne area of Belfast on October 1st in a deal negotiated over the heads of the residents.  The deal guarantees Sinn Fein and Catholic Church support for ongoing marches at a frequency of about five a year on the understanding that they will be “one way tickets.” The Orange will voluntarily refrain from filing for return marches for the time being and a three-year blockade mounted by them will end.

A local commentator marked the settlement by offering a supportive analysis. Yes the Orange would march, yes, the promise not to seek further return marches was entirely voluntary,  yes the settlement was corrupt, yes it was based on a £50 million bribe and much of this would go to Loyalist paramilitaries. However it was the only game in town. There was no alternative. It would bring peace to the local community.

The deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, praised the peace process that had made settlement possible. Dialogue, compromise and mutual respect had resolved conflict.

The difficulty is that the issues tied up in Orange marches are not those of cultural difference but of political conflict. The Orange demand is for the assertion of supremacy. The task of negotiation is to conciliate the sectarians without giving them full rein. It is telling that, after the deal was struck, nationalist protesters were barred from marching the few hundred metres that the Orange paraded on a few hours later. It was necessary not only to demonstrate that the Orange could march, but also that the nationalists were being held in check.

Disrespect and exclusion

For this reason dialogue was far from inclusive. Nationalism was represented by a Sinn Fein front and by the Catholic Church. The majority of the nationalist residents of Ardoyne, represented by the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) were shown little in the way of respect and excluded from both talks and outcome.

When they then objected the representatives of bourgeois nationalism, in the form of Sinn Fein and the full weight of the Catholic church, supported by the Unionist, Alliance party and academics, issued a stern public  call for withdrawal of protest and acceptance of the deal by GARC.

The message is age-old in the Irish context: Croppies lie down! Irish capital is content with the settlement. If it requires a genuflection to Orange bigotry, so be it and the workers should obey their betters.

At this point it should be asked why there is no alternative to Orange supremacy. The answer is the British state. The British drafted the settlement to maintain sectarian division and partition and Irish capital was happy with the settlement. They donated state land to the loyalist camp, policed it when the loyalists were home at their tea and helped the protesters erect flags and banners.

The good old days. A stable sectarianism?

The question now is: Will it work? Will we now see a stable sectarian society where the spoils of division are shared out quietly? The mechanism of placating Orangeism has been in place for some time. It breaks down time after time because the Orange and the paramilitaries will not stay bribed. What does work is Sinn Fein standing alongside the state forces, but this leads to a steady erosion of their support. As they become more closely integrated into the sectarian state it is not enough to brush aside protesters. They must be redefined as the enemy. A good example was an angry verbal exchange between protesters and local church representative Fr Gary Donegan. Sinn Fein and local media decided that verbal abuse was beyond the pale and condemned the protesters, with one Sinn Fein rightist calling for changes is the law to suppress the protests. Donegan himself said his critics were identical to the vicious loyalist bigots who bombarded primary school children with bags of urine in the 2002 blockade of the Holy Cross primary school in the same area. 

Those enforcing the political settlement in the North have lost all sense of irony. The adults, who as children were the subject of death threats and thrown urine bags are now the villains.  The bigots who mounted the blockade and their sons and daughters are now being oppressed by the entirely justified protests of their victims. What appears to be a sectarian division stands unveiled as class struggle, as the nationalist bourgeoisie line up with their orange counterparts and the power of the state to ensure peace and quiet. We return to the past, where orange and green coexisted happily, as long as the green remember to formally bow the knee and acknowledge Orange supremacy.

Locally it means that nationalist workers will routinely be interned by a ring of steel when marches take place. Workers in unionist areas will be left to the mercy of the UVF, pumped up with millions of public cash and with wide impunity from police action.   And all this occurs among widespread silence from socialists and trade unionists who define non-sectarianism as neutrality. Indeed, a local union leader is on his way home from Colombia, following a failed attempt to persuade locals of the benefits of peace in the Irish mode.

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