Friday, June 23, 2006


Residents of Belfast's Springfield Road have reacted angrily to a Parades Commission decision to allow a limited Orange Order parade through their neighborhood in west Belfast.

The Commission says, that a single lodge, along with district officers, will be allowed to make its way through the gate at Workman Avenue and onto the Springfield Road on Saturday.

The rest of the parade has to go through the old Mackies factory site.

There were serious disturbances last September when the whole parade was banned from going through the gate.

Sean Murray from the Springfield Road residents` group accused the Commission of giving in to the threat of loyalist violence.

A commentary in the Irish News read:
In case any one is in any doubt about the purpose behind Orange marches the decision by the Parades Commission in relation to an Orange march on Belfast's Springfield Road this weekend is a timely reminder of what they are about.

Orange marches have one purpose and one purpose only – to remind Catholics and nationalists of their second-class status.

Whether it was Orangemen marching on the Longstone Road, Annalong in the 1950s, Obin Street in Portadown, Derry's Walls or the Springfield Road, Orange marches exist to remind nationalists of their lack of power and their lack of political rights.

The marches are public demonstrations of political domination by unionists of their Catholic neighbours.

Unionist and Orange political power might be waning in the face of the peace process but the Parades Commission's decision proves the Order still retains the capacity to impose its will on society and in particular on the Catholic community on the Springfield Road.

The Orange Order still has the power to dictate to and mobilise the forces of the British state to ensure it is protected. This will be demonstrated when the Parades Commission's decision is policed with the usual military tactics which amount to a curfew. Residents will be hemmed in their homes; their lives disrupted living in a climate of fear.

The Order still has enough influence and strength inside the political and military system to secure decisions which undermine the peace process and do irrevocable damage to community relations.

The parade on the Springfield Road is even more offensive because it is a march associated with the UVF who are responsible for killing many Catholics from that area.

All shades of unionism, political and paramilitary, are involved in this march – the Ulster Unionists, the DUP, the Orange Order, PUP, UVF and UDA. It was this sectarian coalition which justified the mayhem last September when the Parades Commission correctly re-routed the Orange march away from Workman Avenue.

Before making his decision did Roger Poole, chairperson of the Parades Commission, bother to assess the involvement by Orangemen in last September's street violence? They were clearly involved at every stage of the disturbances.

Orange Order violence set the scene for a week of mayhem which spread across Belfast. It involved 150 gun attacks, blast bombs, hundreds of petrol bombs and vehicles being hijacked. Belfast's daily life came to a halt.

The Orange Order and unionist politicians blamed the Parades Commission and absolved themselves from any responsibility.

The new Parades Commission, which includes Orange Order members and sympathisers, have rewarded those behind last September's violence.

The commission also includes, Joe Hendron, former SDLP MP for West Belfast. He needs to publicly explain to his former constituents if he supported the Orange Order's application.

The statement from the Parades Commission chairperson defending his decision is breathtakingly naive.

He described last September's violence as "savage and shameful" and then incomprehensibly says this violence will not be allowed to hold back progress towards a "shared future".

For Poole the "shared future" is allowing unwanted Orange parades to march through Catholic and nationalist areas.

In what can only be described as a bout of wishful thinking to bolster his decision Poole described low-level contact between both sides as "courageous, real and meaningful" dialogue.

Meaningful dialogue is what is needed. Low-level contact should not be exaggerated to fit into the commission's agenda.

The Orange Order should be judged on their intentions. And their intentions are to cause offence to people in places like the Springfield Road. On that basis Orange parades which apply to go through areas where they are not wanted should be banned.

The Orange Order is a secret, oath-bound, sectarian, anti-Catholic organisation. It forfeits any rights it has when it seeks to march through Catholic areas where it is not welcome.

No-one should try to balance out the rights residents have to live free from sectarian intimidation and those of Orangemen. There is no equivalence.

Residents should be protected by the state against the Orange Order which is the aggressor.

No-one would suggest that racists or anti-Semites have rights over those they seek to trample over.

The same attitude should apply to the Orange Order.

The following comes in from Sinn Fein News.

Whiterock March: Orange Order raises tensions

Tensions are extremely high on the nationalist Springfield Road in West Belfast with the news that the Orange Order has rejected a Parades Commission determination for this Saturday's Whiterock Parade.

The Parades Commission ruled that 50 Orangemen and one band could march through the Workman Avenue interface while the remaining 700 Orangemen and 16 bands would be re-routed through the old Mackie's complex.

It has now emerged that West Belfast Orangemen voted unanimously on Monday night, 19 June to reject the Parades Commission determination. A spokesperson said that it is a district parade and not a lodge parade and therefore Orangemen believe the whole district should be allowed to march through Workman Avenue.

However the Orange Order could be overruled by a combination of unionist paramilitaries and politicians on the North and West Belfast Parades Forum.

Speaking to An Phoblacht on Wednesday local Sinn Féin councillor Tom Harley said people's fears are justified given the violence orchestrated by unionist paramilitaries last year. "Last summer the people of Belfast were subjected to days of unionist violence orchestrated by the UDA and UVF. The excuse given by the unionist political establishment for the violence was that for the first time the rights of the nationalist population of the Springfield Road were recognised."

Hartley appeals for calm in the coming days

The Parades Commission decision to allow the controversial Orange Order parade to go ahead had already been described by residents as "shameful". "They have rewarded violence. Loyalists rioted, bombed and fired shots last year and now they have been rewarded," said a spokesperson for the Springfield Road residents.

Residents described themselves as "bitterly disappointed" by the commission's decision and accused the Commission of undermining the very process of engagement it was established to encourage.

They also contend the decision elevates unionist bullyboy tactics while undermining progress towards dialogue and accommodation, so successfully deployed around the "Tour of the North" in North Belfast last weekend.

"Residents who tried to find a resolution through dialogue are being ignored and shunned. The Parades Commission has made things very difficult. Unionist violence of last year was deliberate and planned and has now received a huge reward from the Parades Commission", said Springfield Road Residents Action Group spokesperson Sean Murray.

"The message this sends out to nationalists is that the only thing the Parade Commission listens to is violence and intimidation," he said.

Last September the Orange Order orchestrated some of the worst rioting seen in Belfast for over a decade. The Order rejected a Parades Commission's ruling to re-route the Whiterock march a few hundred yards away from nationalist residents. When the Parades Commission reiterated its decision three months later the Order ensured its rejection would be played out in violent street confrontation.

Orgy of Orange violence

According to the PSNI's own statistics, during the ensuing riot 115 gunshots were fired, 146 blast bombs packed with shrapnel thrown and 116 vehicles hijacked and burnt. The media estimated that over 1,000 petrol bombs were also thrown in an orgy of violence and destruction that cost the taxpayer £3 million.

At the time DUP leader Ian Paisley denied prompting rioting by saying that rerouting the parade "could be the spark which kindles a fire there would be no putting out", while Belfast's senior Orangemen Dawson Baile refused to condemn the rioters and blamed the Parades Commission for the violence.

It's against this backdrop that nationalists will be assessing this week's determination by the Parades Commission to allow the Orange march along a contested route through nationalist West Belfast.

Three possible routes

There are basically three possible routes. The preferred option of nationalist residents is for the march to avoid nationalist homes by marching via the West Circular road.

The Orange Order insists on parading through a peaceline gate at Workman Avenue. The gate divides nationalist Springfield from loyalist Shankill and is only opened twice a year at the insistence of Orangemen determined to march into a nationalist area.

The route through Mackies is a difficult compromise for nationalists. Although avoiding the heart of the nationalist area, there are still a majority of nationalist homes beside the entrance.

Last year Orangemen emerging from Mackies attacked nationalist homes. Despite this, residents were willing to accommodate this compromise.

"Sectarianism on parade"

Loyal Order spokesperson Tommy Cheevers had said he would "reserve judgement" on the decision until "a series of meetings". The DUP challenged the Parades Commission's decision.

An international observers' report published recently characterised the Orange Order parades they had witnessed over a four-year period as "sectarianism on parade".

Sectarian displays witnessed by observers included "Orange supporters dresses as Roman Catholic nuns", bands playing "anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sectarian songs while passing Catholic churches and communities" and a myriad of unionist paramilitary displays "promoting several outlawed loyalist terror groups".

Identifying Orange marches as "anti-Catholic political theatre" the observers concluded, "these displays clearly violate Parades Commission guidelines, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and other laws". The group called on "the British and Irish governments to uphold the Good Friday Agreement's basic guarantee of "freedom from sectarian harassment".

Commission refuses to review decision

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP led a party delegation including West Belfast Councillor Tom Hartley and senior Assembly member Alex Maskey to meet with the Parades Commission on Tuesday after its original decision.

Speaking after the meeting Adams said: "Last year we witnessed widespread violence and intimidation across Belfast and elsewhere as a result of this parade. This violence was widely blamed on the Orange Order and the loyalist paramilitaries.

"Yesterday the Parades Commission capitulated to this violence and the threat of further violence and they rewarded the Orange Order and the loyalist paramilitaries who orchestrated last September's mayhem on the streets.

"This determination has the effect of forcing two parades onto the Springfield Road into two adjoining nationalist areas. They have compounded the problem. Rather than seeking to promote an accommodation through dialogue, the Parades Commission has instead promoted the idea of a parade through the threat of further loyalist violence. This is entirely the wrong approach.

"Sinn Féin has asked the Parades Commission to review what we believe is a deeply flawed determination."

But on Wednesday afternoon the Parades Commission announced that it would not review its decision. Tom Hartley said this compounded the wrong decision already taken and he appealed to the Orange Order leadership to engage directly with local residents to resolve the issue. "The original determination by the Parades Commission directly rewarded the Orange Order and the unionist paramilitaries for the violence they engaged in last September", he said.

"I am disappointed that the Parades Commission have decided to refuse the request to review their decision. This is the wrong approach and compounds the wrong decision already taken by the Parades Commission with the initial determination", said Hartley.

"Even at this late stage I would appeal to the leadership of the Orange Order to remove their bar on talking with local residents on the Springfield Road and sit down face-to-face and try and to seek a resolution to this issue", he said.

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