The ghostly presence of Drumcree hangs over Hillsborough talks
David Sharrock: Analysis - January 30, 2010
The sounds of marching feet, accordion bands and the Lambeg drum reverberate across Northern Ireland every summer but they have not been heard on the Garvaghy Road since 1997.
The bloody riots of Drumcree are a recent memory, erupting over a dispute one balmy summer morning between local Protestant Orangemen wanting to walk their “traditional route” home from church to Portadown town centre and the Catholics of the Garvaghy Road who wanted them to go another way.
For years it was a flashpoint, bringing the Province to a standstill, causing death, injury and millions of pounds of damage.
Drumcree has been a ghostly presence at the Hillsborough talks all week. It is as if the Drumcree Orangemen have been tapping Gordon Brown on the shoulder, reminding him how they wish to be able to complete their journey down the Garvaghy Road.
On many Sundays the Orangemen still walk up to a police checkpoint and petition for the right to continue down the road, before turning back with their request denied.
That ceremony is what lies beneath the Democratic Unionist calls for the Parades Commission, which sets conditions on contentious loyalist marches, to be abolished and replaced with something that will not offend Protestant sensibilities about their civil rights to freely walk “the Queen’s highway”.
But on the Garvaghy Road, Patricia, a local Catholic on her way to buy a sausage roll, was contemptuous of the Orangemen’s demands. “If Gerry Adams was to give in on this and they got to march down here again that’d be the end of him,” she said.
In a corner of the United Kingdom where symbols carry extraordinary weight the Garvaghy Road is an issue as symbolic to supporters of the Democratic Unionists as that which Sinn Féin seeks: the transfer of policing and justice powers from English politicians and civil servants in London to their counterparts in Belfast.
It was the “victory” of Lord Trimble in getting the Orangemen down this nondescript road that propelled him to the leadership of the Ulster Unionists and the role of First Minister in the first, doomed experiment in power-sharing.
The Reverend Ian Paisley was with Lord Trimble in 1995 when the Orangemen made it down the road: the two men ecstatically clasped hands above their heads as they walked the last few yards.
Lord Trimble (who was ennobled in 2006) dismissed accusations that he was being triumphalistic but the image created a lasting impression on Catholics and nationalists.
The history of the Drumcree protest is mired in myth but Gerry Adams readily admits the work that Sinn Féin put into organising Garvaghy Road resistance to the Orangemen.
Times have changed, however, and local republicans, once loyal to a Sinn Féin that promised to “smash Stormont”, no longer take orders from a party that now “administers British rule in Ireland”.
Breandan MacCionnaith, a former Provisional IRA prisoner and once a bright Sinn Féin prospect who ran the Garvaghy Road residents group, is now spokesman for the political group éirígí, which rejects the Good Friday settlement and refuses to support the police.
The Garvaghy residents issued a statement this week, rejecting speculation that a deal based on the “Derry model” — where loyalist orders march through the commercial and historic centre of Londonderry with local agreement — might be the solution.
The DUP must be aware that Sinn Féin is unable to deliver a deal for Orangemen to walk — even one last time for the sake of symbolism — down the Garvaghy Road. But they also must be quietly enjoying the bitter irony that a dispute with which Sinn Féin was so closely associated is now causing the republicans so much grief.
The 2006 St Andrews agreement, which brought about power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Féin, did not set a deadline for the transfer of policing and justice powers, although the British and Irish Governments said that they thought it could take place within two years.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness claims that the DUP promised him personally that that date would be met. But look at what happened to a similar two-year deadline in the 1998 Good Friday agreement for the decommissioning of terrorist weapons, despite the nod-and-winks to David Trimble that it would happen?
It took more than seven years to achieve, by which time Lord Trimble’s political career in Ulster was in ruins and support for his party had collapsed.
For the DUP, the logic of the argument is inescapable: if the Government was so patient with Sinn Féin, prepared even to sacrifice the leader of the largest Northern Ireland party and its main ally in reaching the original agreement, why the hurry now?
The Northern Ireland Secretary, Shaun Woodward, has spoken of a “natural timeline” to the process, ending just days before the general election.
There are legitimate question from the DUP’s point of view: does Mr Woodward believe that Labour is going to lose and therefore be unable to finish the process? Would a Conservative government act differently? Would it not be better to get the agreement right rather than rush it?
Peter Robinson, beset on all sides by pressure and scandals involving his wife Iris’s “inappropriate behaviour”, does not intend to follow David Trimble down the road to ruin — whether or not its name is Garvaghy.
The following thoughts from Brother John Shanahan regarding the infamous Orange Order and their feeble attempts to present a new "scrubbed up" version of an old anti Catholic, anti Irish, disruptive, group of bigots are "spot on". Furthermore, they have not changed one bit from their origins and they still have their supporters as evidenced by the above article from a newspaper which contains several innuendoes that are obviously slanted toward the Unionist point of view. Our thanks to John for very capably stating the "other side of the story".
"A cultural institution," they said under the tent on the National Mall. They wore new golf shirts, a pale orange colour with a lovely purple flower on them. For the youngsters, comic books with a new action hero all dressed up in purple and orange tights and a cape. This was the scrubbed-up face of the new Orange Order, the cultural champion of Christian values in the protestant tradition -- values that one might expect to be rooted in the essential message of "love one another."
Some of us did not believe this. Some of us said, "No, this is a sham." Others rushed forward to embrace the painted whore and said, "See how lovely she is! Why don't we all accept her and let's all get along." But a small band of us knew the truth -- that in the words of scripture, the painted whore was "full of rot and dead man's bones." Despite criticism from friends and brothers, we stood our ground. We knew the truth and we stood for it.
Today, the truth is out for all to see. The painted whore is exposed. This is no friendly bunch of lads, all about preserving an iconic slice of local culture. This is evil, the modern-day institution of the old Protestant Ascendancy, dedicated to one thing and one thing only -- the repression of the Catholic Church and all who believe in her. This evil would go so far as to bring down the Northern Ireland government and end the peace, if that's what it takes, to preserve its historic goals of religious oppression and sectarian bigotry.
Let all know and understand: this is what the Orange Order is and what it stands for. And let any man who refuses to see this truth, proven today in Stormont, for what it really is, be called by his proper name: Fool.
In Our Motto and Proud to Stand in Defense of Our Faith,
Ancient Order of Hibernians
Washington, DC and
Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland