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Police force Orange Order march through Ardoyne

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Two consecutive nights of clashes between nationalist youth and police have taken place in several places in the north of Ireland including Belfast, Derry Lurgan and Armagh. Bernie McAdam argues that the peace process barely disguises the continuing sectarian nature of the Orange state of Northern Ireland.

July 12 is the day when residents of Ardoyne in Belfast traditionally have to endure Orangemen marching through their area. It was no different this year as police provided the usual protection for the Orange Order. In full riot gear they used water cannon and baton rounds to clear a way for this sectarian march to parade through an area which clearly didn’t want it.

The Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) had campaigned vociferously in the preceding months to have it re routed. The results of a survey held by GARC representing 1,100 households in the area had shown that there was no support for the Parades Commission approval of a loyalist parade through this nationalist area. Given Sinn Fein’s inability to stop the parade there was no alternative for GARC to issue a call to stand ‘shoulder to shoulder with the local residents’ of Ardoyne on July 12.

The resulting sit down protest on the route of the parade by around two hundred residents was a justified act of protest. For over two hours the loyalist march was held up. Police snatch squads tried in vain to clear this peaceful protest as protesters bravely clung on to one another. Eventually the overwhelming force and firepower of the police prevailed and Orangemen were given a protected entry. Serious rioting followed as more residents clashed with police.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly blames ‘the Real IRA’ and dissident outsiders. PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Finlay also lashed out at a minority that showed the worst face of ‘bigotry, sectarianism and intolerance’. Both completely miss the point. The source of sectarianism in ‘Northern Ireland’ is historically the state and British presence. The fact that loyalism still insists on marching through nationalist areas is the real face of sectarianism and intolerance. The fact that British state forces allow this to happen shows the real sectarian nature of the Orange state.

The Northern Ireland authorities have tried to sanitise the July 12 Orange Order parades. ‘A day out for the family’ or incredulously even a welcome tourist attraction but the reality in a number of areas is quite different. The parades have always been an expression of Orange, Protestant or pro British supremacy over a Catholic population whose allegiance has been to a united republic of Ireland. The Orange state was founded on Britain’s denial of the right of Ireland as a whole to determine its own future. That’s why attacks on nationalist areas often accompany these marches, that’s why the Irish tricolour is burnt on the twelfth bonfires. Nationalist marches on the contrary never insist on parading through loyalist areas.

The Parades Commission is clearly not working for the benefit of residents’ groups. The Orange Order cares for neither. Sinn Fein deceitfully attacks the Orange Order and then lashes out at residents for being dissidents. Even worse Sinn Fein uses the issue of parades to undermine democratic rights in the north. In fact both Executive parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, are attempting to push through legislation which will place major restrictions on the right to protest.

Stop the Public Assemblies bill

The Public Assemblies Bill if passed will mean all rallies or protests of over 50 people will need to apply for permission 37 days in advance. In the case of an ‘extreme emergency’ three days permission ‘may’ be granted. Currently no permission is needed. Other changes will mean organisers of marches providing names and content of banners and which groups are on the protest. This draconian Bill will stop all forms of spontaneous protest like when the Gaza Flotilla was attacked or when a factory or care home closes. Neither does it resolve the issue of contentious parades!

Public meetings and marches have already been held against this attack on civil liberties. Trade unions such as the Newry and District Council of Trade Unions have already taken a stand against the Bill. It is crucial that all trade unions, residents’ and community groups unite against this undemocratic Bill. All workers need to protest and campaign for mass industrial action to stop this attack on workers’ rights.

The Sinn Fein/DUP government are delivering up an array of draconian anti working class cuts and repression on the back of the Good Friday Peace Agreement. But under the smokescreen of peace the key pillars of the sectarian state still exist. The Unionists’ right to veto a united Ireland remains. Contentious Orange parades go ahead as usual and republican prisoners in Maghaberry are beaten and tortured. British troops are still stationed in Ireland. Time is right for action and taking to the streets against every aspect of the government’s wide ranging assaults on the working class – against the cuts and against repression.