Orange disorder

Loyalist split

The arson attack on a Ballymoney council house, leading to the deaths of three boys, has driven a wedge between pro- and anti-agreement unionists

The killing of Richard, Mark and Jason Quinn in the early hours of Sunday morning came as a godsend to David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and first minister of Northern Ireland. It has helped to defuse the growing crisis resulting from the Drumcree stand-off that was threatening to derail the British-Irish Agreement.

Conflicting pressures were pulling Trimble in opposite directions. On the one hand, he believes that only the Good Friday deal can provide the basis for a new stability in Northern Ireland, which he hopes can secure its position as an integral part of the United Kingdom. Sinn Féin/IRA, the most intransigent and consistent opponent of the British occupation of the Six Counties for almost 30 years, has permanently ended its armed resistance. It looks set to complete its transformation into respectable bourgeois politics and actively cooperate in the administration of the statelet, in exchange for the release of its prisoners of war and the establishment of cross-border institutions.

On the other hand, Trimble owes his election as UUP leader to his membership of the Orange Order and reputation as a staunch defender of Orange ‘rights’. Only two years ago he stood at Drumcree alongside Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, demanding that the Portadown lodge should be allowed to flaunt its supremacist message as it marched along the nationalist Garvaghy Road. Today the Orangemen want to put up two fingers not only to the local catholic residents, but to the entire imperialist-sponsored peace process. The agreement represents a threat to their historic privilege and, in their eyes, their protestant identity. The Orange Order recommended a ‘no’ vote in May’s referendum, while Trimble was the standard bearer for a ‘yes’ vote in the unionist camp.

The Ballymoney atrocity gave him the opportunity he had been praying for. It allowed him to drop his previous ambivalent position of sympathising with the Orangemen’s desire to march along their traditional route, while hiding behind the Parades Commission ban. Here was his chance to pull the ground from under the ultra-loyalists’ feet. Using the argument that no march could be worth the lives of three innocent children, he issued a joint statement with the SDLP’s Seamus Mallon, his second minister: “We appeal to the Orangemen at Drumcree to immediately end their protest and return to their homes. Nothing can be gained from continuing this stand-off.”

Mallon warned of the escalating violence and a return to the ‘troubles’. Many Orange leaders, as well as unionist politicians, saw their own positions coming under threat as loyalist protest seemed to be moving beyond their influence. In hundreds of incidents across the Six Counties road blocks were set up, vehicles were hijacked, security forces attacked and catholic property set on fire. Scores of catholic families were forced to flee their homes. In Portadown itself the Garvaghy Road area was entirely cut off for a time by loyalist gangs.

The Armagh county grand chaplain, Rev William Bingham, spoke for a section of the Orange establishment when he said: “I believe the Orange Order needs to back off from its protest because we cannot control it.” Later he was heckled by hard-line leaders of the Spirit of Drumcree faction and scuffles broke out at the Orange rally he was addressing. Although the Portadown lodge “unanimously” decided to “maintain a presence” outside Drumcree church, significantly it ended the threat of a huge demonstration last Monday on the occasion of the 309th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. It stated: “We would encourage our brethren from other areas to remain in their own districts and celebrate there. We thank them for their continuing support and wish them well in their celebrations.”

Elsewhere across the Six Counties Orange protesters called off their ‘freedom camp’ outside the Hillsborough Castle residence of Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam. Republicans abandoned plans to block another Orange parade through a nationalist area along Belfast’s Lower Ormeau Road. They contented themselves with a silent protest, holding up banners reading ‘Shame on you’ and releasing black balloons as the marchers passed. In an attempt to be even-handed the Parades Commission had allowed the Ormeau Road march, having previously ordered the re-routing of the Drumcree event.

The Ballymoney deaths threw the Orangemen off balance. Clearly the unrest had been sparked by their own protest and they knew it. By its very nature loyalism, because it defends a position of privilege, is directed against those deemed to threaten that status - ie, the entire catholic population. Yet here were three ‘catholic’ boys who were actually being brought up and educated as Protestants. Just what sort of ‘threat’ did their presence on a protestant estate pose? Ian Paisley, who a few days earlier had boasted that the July 13 Drumcree demonstration would be “the decider” in the Orangemen’s favour (“I think that these men will be going down the road,” he had predicted), condemned the firebombing - and even had the gall to visit the bereaved catholic mother in hospital.

Yet last week Orange leaders were confident of forcing Blair to retreat over Drumcree and in so doing dent the peace process itself. Their strategy has been to stoke up conflict through provoking a republican backlash to their marches. “What’s the point of marching if it’s only in our own areas?” asked Stephen McAllister, organiser of the Tour of the North parade through the Ormeau Road. David McNarry, a senior Orangeman, warned: “We can, if we wish, put our minds to paralyse this country in a matter of hours.” An anonymous colleague pointed to the influence the ultra-loyalists continued to exert at all levels of the Six Counties statelet: “We have sympathisers in the RUC who keep us informed of their movements and let us know when they are at their weakest” (The Independent July 8).

There was indeed a danger of a split within the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as its officers at Drumcree faced not only missiles, but taunts of “SS - RUC”. One embittered Orangeman commented: “They wouldn’t shoot the IRA, but they’re shooting their own now.” As the state forces hit back, a woman shouted: “Get the LVF down here. Let’s get something done about this” (The Daily Telegraph July 11). Members of the Loyalist Volunteer Force murder squads were indeed seen leading the Drumcree Orange violence, including Mark Fulton, who is rumoured to have succeeded Billy Wright as LVF leader.

Others were looking forward to the creation of new Ulster martyrs on a Drumcree battlefield. David Jones, a Portadown lodge official, threatened perversely: “Tony Blair needs to be careful that, with the 12th of July celebrations coming in, Drumcree doesn’t turn out to be his Bloody Sunday.”

The Quinn killings have for the moment put paid to such thoughts. The Ballymoney firebombing has shaken Orange resolve and split its ranks. This has strengthened the hand of both Trimble and Blair and has given a boost to the pro-agreement forces. It was this that led Paisley and some local Orangemen to imply that the arson attack had not been the work of Orange sympathisers at all. Last week we pointed out that the firebombings of 10 catholic churches had played into the state’s hands (“Perhaps they were the work of the MI5” - Weekly Worker July 9). But there is a difference between a series of coordinated church attacks and the indiscriminate burning of catholic houses. These occurred all over the Six Counties but did not result in other deaths or even serious injury. The fatal consequences of the Ballymoney incident and the reaction to it could not have been planned.

Whether the church attacks had been carried out by state forces, paramilitaries such as the LVF or religious fanatics, some loyalists were rejoicing. Leaflets were being handed out at Drumcree which carried a photograph of one of the burnt out catholic churches. The accompanying wording consisted entirely of biblical quotes, including this one from Deuteronomy: “Thus shall ye deal with them: ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.”

Be that as it may, the pressure on Trimble and, as a result, the state’s task has clearly been eased following both the church arson attacks and the Quinn killings.

Sinn Féin’s hopes have also been boosted. Last week An Phoblacht was calling on its former enemy, the British state, to protect “the besieged, threatened and frightened nationalist people of the Garvaghy Road” (July 9). “Repeatedly over the years the British have capitulated and opted to trample on the rights of nationalists rather than lance the Orange boil,” it complained. The paper reported the words of Brendeán Mac Cionnath, former IRA prisoner and now the representative of the Garvaghy Road residents: “This is about upholding the law - the British have to take the high moral ground now.”

In the same issue of An Phoblacht Gerry Adams sets out SF’s position on the Orange parades: “Sinn Féin upholds the right of the loyal orders to march,” he writes. “There are over 3,000 marches by the various loyal orders each year. There are only a small number - less than one percent - which nationalists find intolerable.”

The SF president continues:

“Sinn Féin is for a voluntary accommodation of all contentious parades. This can only be achieved by inclusive and direct dialogue ... it is only through dialogue that the two sides - that is, those of us who want change and those who feel threatened by change - will get to understand each other’s positions.”

Nevertheless the bottom line for Adams is the necessity for the British state to “uphold the rights of all citizens”. He adds: “If it genuinely means to do this then the British government risks alienating substantive elements of unionism, if only on a temporary basis.” He clearly believes Blair must take that risk, rejecting the idea that there is any need to “make concessions to Orangeism rather than risk David Trimble’s position”.

All this is a far cry from the days when SF/IRA aimed to drive out the British lock, stock and barrel. Today it looks upon the British state not as an illicit occupying force, but as the legitimate authority which should, in the final analysis, impose its will on the loyalists. The dream of a united Ireland is to be realised not through a revolutionary struggle to expel British power, but in cooperation with that power.

Communists on the other hand do not view the reactionary Orange bigots as the main enemy. Our enemy is the imperialist state. Unlike nationalists, we do not view the aim of a united Ireland as an end in itself. For us the means - the self-activity of the masses - is all-important.

In so far as SF/IRA opposed imperialism in a revolutionary way, their struggle deserved and received our unconditional support. But we do not support their collusion with imperialism and its peace process - a peace process which aims to sideline the masses in the interests of capitalist stability.

Jim Blackstock