Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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From Riots to Rights
by Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan
|1. DIVERSE ROOTS, VARIED CUSTOMS
|Parading the North: Volunteers and Masons
|Control and Constraint
|2. PARADING FOR HOME RULE
|Our Lady's Day in 1872
|Disturbances in County Armagh
|The Right to Parade (I)
|Contrasting Experiences: Down and Armagh
|Walking Derry's Walls
|3. CULTURE AND COMMEMORATIONS
|Hibernians and Foresters
|Stepping Out in '98
|Out Again in '99
|The Cause of Labour
|The New Century
|4. SPECIAL POWERS IN NORTHERN IRELAND
|Green Parades in an Orange State
|The Labour Movement
|The Right to Parade (II)
|5. A GOLDEN ERA?
|Flying the Tricolour
|'Traditional' Parades and Legitimate Displays
|6. 'YOU CAN MARCH - CAN OTHERS?'
|The Right to Parade (III)
|Shifting Power, Shifting Parades
|Internment and Bloody Sunday
|From the Right to March to No-Go
|7. THE RIGHT TO MARCH
|Consolidation rather than Confrontation
|Resistance: From Confrontation to Community?
|The Extension of Parading Rights
|The Right to Parade (IV)
|8. SOME CONCLUSIONS
|Power and Public Space
|Understanding Cultural 'Tradition'
|Irish Nationalism and the Right to March
|The Search for Solutions
|9. SOME RECOMMENDATIONS
We are indebted to a wide range of individuals and groups who have helped us in compiling this report. We hope that we have reflected fairly the details of some of the more contemporary events, the interpretations are of course our own.
This report was made possible thanks to continued help and guidance from Professor Seamus Dunn and Professor Tom Fraser at the Centre for the Study of Conflict. Special thanks are also due to Pat Shortt and Ruth McIlwaine for their help in preparing the manuscript.
Whilst CCRU assisted in the funding of this project, it does not
necessaril endors the views expressed in this report.
This is the third book on Parades to be published by the Centre for the Study of Conflict since 1995. We have been most fortunate in recent years in having available two scholars and researchers (Dominic Bryan and Neil Jarman) with an extremely wide and detailed knowledge of all aspects of parading, both historical and current. My colleague Tom Fraser has also added his encyclopaedic knowledge of many aspects of modern history to our thinking on and discussion of the matter, and he is currently editing a book of essays on Parades for Macmillan. There is no doubt that the two authors of this new book have made the subject their own, and their careful compilations of data and analyses of events and issues have resulted in a corpus of material that no-one interested in the labyrinthine political and social affairs of Northern Ireland can ignore.
This latest work turns its attention to Nationalist parades, a subject on which very little of an analytical nature has been published up to now. However, it contains a great deal more than this as it tries to locate and contextualise many of the public arguments and questions about parades within wider systems of civil management and organisation. That both communities in Northern Ireland have always felt the need to promote and support parades, is made clear: but the complex social and symbolic causes and roots of these parades is a matter needing careful analysis and thought, and this work does this with considerable intellectual power.
The book ends with a chapter on recommendations about how the management of public political expression can be achieved - or at least aspired to. This, like the rest of the book, should be required reading for everyone involved in or concerned with the matter of parades in Northern Ireland.
This report explores the relationship between parades and community relations in the north of Ireland, particularly looking at parades and commemorations organised by Irish nationalists and republicans. It is largely because parades are an appropriate means of displaying strength of numbers and of asserting claims to space and place that they have been utilised so widely in the contested political and geographical terrain of Ulster and why they continue to be the focus of conflict as we approach the new millennium. By examining the developments of nationalist parades it can be shown that the existence of 'traditional' parades is directly related to the political power that respective communities have held.
This report examines how four related factors have helped govern the development of the parading tradition:
|The relative population balance in any particular geographical area;
|the role of the police in maintaining order;
|the interests of government and the use of legislation;
|the pressure within communities to maintain peaceful relationships through tolerance.
The report concludes that if the political arena in Northern Ireland is turning from an agenda led by political violence to one focused on civil rights, then there will be new challenges facing all sections of the community particularly as regards public political expression.
The movement towards peace in Northem Ireland appeared to become a reality in the autumn of 1994 when the IRA and the Combined Loyalist Military Command both announced cease-fires. This seemed to be the minimum requirement for discussions on the political status of Northern Ireland to have some chance of success. Yet, as the peace process was developing, politics on the street were becoming more confrontational. The summers of 1995, 1996 & 1997 were dominated by disputes over the right to march. Residents groups protested at loyalist parades being allowed though nationalist areas; members of the loyal orders demanded the right to march on their 'traditional routes'; and the RUC were left to make decisions over parades, frequently enforced by large numbers of officers using considerable physical force. At times the conflict on the streets seemed likely to overwhelm the process towards peace.
This report will explore the relationship between parades and community relations in the north of Ireland. We will do this by examining the history of Irish nationalist and republican parades and commemorations. Our central argument is that to understand the role played by parades we must examine relationships of political power. Parades are not simply cultural asides, elements of a tradition which reveal the historical roots of a community, rather they have been, and remain, pivotal in defining the relationships both between the state and local communities and between local communities. The right to parade and to demonstrate has never been formally underwritten under British law but it has been established as a right through practice. Over the past two hundred years it is a right that has been aspired to by many sections of society. The Volunteers, the Freemasons, the Orange Order, the Ribbonmen, the Catholic Church, the Tenants Right movement, the Ancient Order of Hibemians, the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Republican movement, the Labour movement, the Anti-PartitionLeague, the Civil Rights movement, and the Ulster Defence Association are some of the more politically significant groups that have taken to the streets. There is not a decade in the last two hundred years when parades have not led to significant civil disturbances. The right to parade has been claimed by some while being denied to others. Sometimes it has been denied to all in the interests of public peace. The history of parades is the history of community relations, of class relations and of power relationships.
Parading has come to be seen as a largely Protestant tradition in Ireland and yet its origins are rooted in the rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a widely established practice that has been used, and continues to be used, by a diverse range of bodies and organisations. Parades are used to give a sense of cohesion to the group themselves, to make public displays of power, wealth, strength and authority, to offer challenges or warnings to other sectors of society and as celebrations and entertainment. Some parades can be all of these things at the same time, meaning one thing to those participating in them and something quite different to those watching.
The aim of this report is to indicate some of the ways in which others, beyond the Orange tradition, have used parades as part of their cultural expression and in support of their political demands in Ireland and in particular in the north of Ireland. It is largely because parades are an appropriate means of displaying strength of numbers and of asserting claims to space and place that they have been utilised so widely in the contested political and geographical terrain of Ulster and why they continue to be the focus of conflict as we approach the new millennium. This report focuses on when, why and how the nationalist parading tradition has been utilised and why it has been challenged and thereby tries to draw out some of the lessons of history that are pertinent to the contemporary debate.
By examining the development of nationalist parades it can be
shown that the existence of 'traditional' parades is directly
related to the political power that the respective communities
have held. We have tried to assess how four related factors have
helped govern the development of the parading tradition.
Clearly the relationship between specific local factors, such as the relative size and location of particular communities, and broader political factors, such as the political interests of government, is a complex one. We have traced the changes that have taken place by surveying newspaper reports and other published material and therefore we have not drawn on the full range of historical documentation that some historians might expect. Nevertheless, we believe that our research does reveal generalised tendencies which allows us to discuss recommendations that might improve the future management of community relations in Northern Ireland.
THE RIGHT TO MARCH
The suspension of Stormont in 1972 significantly altered relationships of power in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party was no longer in control and unionism further fragmented. Political interests and political power were more directly based in London, governed by security concerns and various approaches to solving the 'Northern Ireland problem'. The political environment in which all public demonstrations were to take place had changed. The extent of these changes took time to reveal themselves but as the republican movement gained increasing political support after the Hunger Strikes it began to extend a number of events to areas from which they had previously been excluded. Furthermore by the mid-1980s the RUC were beginning to take a tougher line on some Orange parades. These changes were reflected both in new Public Orderlegislation that appeared in 1987 and then a series of high profile disputes over Orange parades that culminated in further legislation introduced in 1997.
Changes within nationalist politics also influenced that nature of public political expression. Unlike previous constitutional nationalist groupings the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) did not utilise the Hibernians as part of its political campaigns. Despite a number of its prominent members coming from the civil rights campaign, most notably John Hume, the party has not, in the main, used mass parades and demonstrations in its political enterprise. Consequently, St Patrick's Day and Lady's Day have had a lower political profile than in the past and Hibernian and Foresters parades have become predominantly social events. The republican movement has regularly utilised large public gatherings and has gained access to areas such as the centre of Belfast through political pressure. But the Hibemians and Foresters have only recently felt able to extend their parading routes, this has been possible because they are no longer seen as a political threat by the Protestant community.
Since the demise of the civil rights movement a central concern of constitutional nationalist organisations has been to avoid confrontation and to conduct their commemorations within predominantly Catholic areas. Hibernian parades have reduced considerably in size since the 1950s. There was a crowd of over ten thousand at a parade in Kilrea in 1978 but most events over recent years have been considerably smaller than this (IN 16.8.1978). In the main it has been a conspicuous policy of the Hibernians and Foresters to avoid conflict over their parades, and most problems that have arisen have been associated with periods of wider sectarian tension.
The Hibernians lifted their self-imposed ban on parades in 1975 although there had been a few unofficial parades prior to that (IN 18.3.1974, 18.3.1975). In the late 1970s and early 1980s there appears to have been regular agitation by unionists in Lame over Hibernian parades held along the Antrim coast. In 1979 loyalists tried to stop Hibernians coming over from Scotland and there were disturbances as they gathered before a parade in Camlough. In 1982 there were accusations from Lame loyalists that Hibernian supporters had waved Tricolours provocatively in the High Street; and in 1985 loyalist politicians in the town complained of the possibility of a parade in Camlough. Elsewhere in County Antrim in 1982 a band in Portglenone was stoned, and in 1989 loyalists stoned the first Hibernian parade in Armoy for thirty-five years (BT 15.8.1979; IN 18.3.1982, 16.8.1985, 16.8. 1989; East Antrim Times 27.8.1982; Larne Times 29.3.1985).
Tensions became particularly high through 1985 and 1986 when there were major disputes over Orange parades in Portadown and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement worsened community relations. The disputes in Portadown, over the right of Orangemen to use the Catholic Tunnel area of the town for a number of their parades, seems to have been sparked by a dispute over a St Patrick's Day parade. On 17 March 1985 the St Patrick's s Accordion Band was prevented by the RUC from marching from Obins Street past the mainly loyalist Park Road and onto the Garvaghy Road. A demonstration and prayer meeting by a small crowd of loyalists, including Arnold Hatch, Mayor of Craigavon, convinced the police that there was a serious risk of public disorder. On its return from a St Patrick's Day rally in Cookstown that band again tried to walk the route, resulting in clashes between bandsmen and police. Local SDLP representative Brid Rodgers was quick to contrast the attitude of the RUC during these incidents with the role the RUC played in facilitating Orange parades in the Tunnel every July. It was not long before there developed a more concerted effort by local nationalists to stop some of the Orange parades (Bryan. Fraser and Dunn 1995).
The Portadown dispute raised tensions in other areas. There were several incidents on Lady's Day 1985. In Ballerin there was trouble when police tried to remove Tricolours from a Hibernian parade. In Garvagh Hibernian coaches were stoned and in Kilkeel there was a massive police operation to allow two nationalist bands to parade before going to a Foresters event at Warrenpoint (IN 16.8, 16.8. 1985; IT 15.8.1985). The following St Patrick's Day police arrested nine people as the two bands again paraded through Kilkeel and there were clashes between nationalist and loyalist crowds (BT 18.3.1986). Also in 1986 a Foresters St Patrick's Day parade in Lurgan attracted significant attention when the National Front threatened a counter demonstration. Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis was amongst those giving his support for the right of the Foresters to parade in Lurgan. On the day the police clashed with loyalist demonstrators in the High Street whilst the parade took the planned route at one end of the town (BNL 17.3, 18.3.1986; BT 17.3.1986). On Lady's Day in 1986 there were clashes between nationalist youths and police after the main Hibernian parade at Toome and there were yet more incidents in Kilkeel where eighteen people were arrested after a nationalist band paraded during the evening (IN 16.8.1986; BNL 16.8.1986).
As with Orange parades the involvement of independent bands in Hibernian parades can be problematic for the organisers. In Draperstown in 1980 and in Magherafelt in 1984 bandsmen clashed with the RUC as the police tried to remove Tricolours from the parade (IN 16.8.1980, 16.8.1984). In recent years the Hibernians have discouraged certain paramilitary style bands from taking part in their events. In the main however, incidents related to Hibernian and Foresters parades have been relatively minor when compared to those arising out of both Orange and republican parades. Senior members of the AOH have gone out of their way to stress that their parades should only take place in areas, generally in the countryside, where they are welcome.
There have also been a variety of St Patrick's Day events other than those organised by the Hibernians and Foresters. In Downpatrick and Armagh parades which are generally perceived as non-political have taken place in most years and since 1969, there have been a variety of St Patrick's Day parades in west Belfast and on the New Lodge Road. These seemed to have varied in terms of political involvement depending on other circumstances. The first parade appears to have been organised by the James Connolly Band in west Belfast and by 1974 the parade involved the INF, Republican Clubs, Communist Party of Ireland and the Connolly Youth. In 1978 and 1979 there were large events involving the GAA, INF, AOH, Sinn Féein Relatives Action Committee and the Republican Prisoners Welfare Association. But by 1981 the event, now organised by the St Patrick's Day Association, had become more of a carnival with a number of floats taking part. By 1983 the Irish News was describing it as a nonpolitical event and basically a parade for children'. However, Sinn Féin and the Workers Party took part in the parade in 1984, with the INF holding a separate parade, and there were clashes between youths and soldiers after the parade in 1985. In 1986 there was a parade in the New Lodge but according to a Sinn Féin spokesperson the parade on the Falls Road was cancelled due to lack of interest. In 1988 there was a large St Patrick's Day demonstration on the Falls, the day after Michael Stone killed three mourners at the funeral of the IRA members shot by the SAS in Gibraltar, this finished with a meeting at which Gerry Adams addressed the crowd. The following year the theme of the parade was the Irish language and in 1991 the event coincided with the arrival of the Birmingham six in Belfast. Yet in 1992 and 1993 there appear to have been no events of note on the Falls (IN 18.3.1969, 18.3.1970, 18.3.1971, 18.3.1972, 18.3.1974, 18.3.1977, 18.3.1979, 18.3.1981, 18.3.1983, 18.3.1984, 18.3.1988, 18.3.1989, 18.3.1991; BT 18.3.1985, 17.3.1986).
St. Patrick's Day in 1998 saw the first ever major parade in Belfast City Centre to mark the feast-day. The organising committee drew up guidelines to the effect that there would be no party political banners, no militaristic bands and no party tunes played in order to make the event as inclusive as possible. The parade was given the theme of 'Myths, Legends and Realities' and had some support from Belfast City Council (IN 16.3.98). The event received criticism from unionists and there were elements in the parade that were always going to make it difficult for a cross section of the community to take part. It remains to be seen if such an event will become a permanent fixture in Belfast.
The Hibernians and the Foresters are now politically marginal in Northern Irish politics and the relatively unproblematic nature of their parades must be seen in this context. However, republicanism, particularly through Sinn Féin, has developed as a mass popular movement, utilising a variety of commemorative occasions that have often been constrained by the forces of the state and opposed by loyalists. There are four major annual republican commemorations in the north: the Easter Rising; Bloody Sunday (30 January 1972), marked by an annual parade in Deny; the Hunger Strikes, commemorated by parades in early May; and the anniversary of Internment, commemorated on the second Sunday of August. As well as these major events an extensive range of small commemorative parades are held across the north to mark the anniversaries of individual republicans. Whilst each of these events are recognised as being important by the republican movement and have served to symbolise resistance to the British presence in Ireland they draw in different ways on the nationalist community reflecting political differences as well as a common purpose.
The Easter Rising has remained the most widespread commemoration in the republican calendar. Since the early 1970s the Easter commemorations have reflected the divisions in the republican movement with the Provisional and Official (later the Workers Party) wings of the republican movements holding separate events. More recently the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and Republican Sinn Féin have also held their own commemorations. On occasions, such as 1973 and 1975 there were clashes between rival parades and in 1977 there was a gun battle after a bomb had killed a young boy watching the Officials parade. In the main, however, the commemorations organised by the National Graves Association and supported by the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin have dominated (IN 23.4.1973, 31.3.1975, 11.4, 12.4.1977). The modem equivalent of the Easter Rising has been the commemoration of the Hunger Strikes. The traumatic events of 1981 when ten republican prisoners died in a campaign to gain special category status as political prisoners provides another important political anniversary for the nationalist community. The political power of the events at the time were revealed in the election of hunger striker Bobby Sands as MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone and in the massive turnouts for the ten funerals of the Hunger Strikers. These events served to unite the nationalist community, highlighting the republican cause, in a way that the Easter commemorations did not. It reinvigorated Sinn Féin adding a political front to what had up until then been a predominantly military struggle. Whilst local commemorations take place near the homes of all the Hunger Strikers the most significant demonstration is held in west Belfast on or around 5 May, the anniversary of Bobby Sands' death. The Black Flag marches that had taken place in 1981 were held annually in the years that followed between Andersonstown and Dunville Park.
If Easter and the Hunger Strike commemorations have signified sacrifice then Internment and Bloody Sunday have been used to highlight injustice in British rule appealing both to the Catholic community and to wider international interests. The Bloody Sunday commemorations in Derry are clearly important for the wider republican community but they draw on a slightly different political community then the Easter commemorations. First, they have a particular local resonance for people in Deny both in and outside the republican movement. Second, remembrance of Bloody Sunday acts as a more specific reminder of injustices that the British state has been unwilling to fully investigate. As such, along with campaigns such as the Birmingham Six and the Guilford Four, the Bloody Sunday Campaign has drawn wide political support Four, within Britain and has also led to the development of more generalised concerns with human rights. The first commemoration of Bloody Sunday was organised by NICRA and although they held an event the following year the larger commemorations were organised by Sinn Féin and they sustained the event thereafter. For the 20th Anniversary the relatives of the fourteen families formed the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign and attempted to draw in as wide a constituency as possible to get a new inquiry into the events. The original Bloody Sunday campaign changed its name to the Pat Finucane Centre and concentrated on human rights and justice issues. The demonstration, held on the Sunday nearest the 30 January has reflected these changes.
The British government introduced internment without trial on 9 August 1971. Initially three hundred and forty two men were arrested. Further detentions occurred in the following weeks (Bew and Gillespie 1993:36-37). Strikes and demonstrations were organised in the immediate aftermath with a broad spectrum of the Catholic community opposing the policy and the Provisional IRA receiving a boost in membership (Farrell 1980:283). In 1973 there were massive protests against imprisonment without trial as well as impromptu rallies at midnight bonfires, although NICRA organised some early events Sinn Féin were the main organisers of most events (IN 5.8.1973, 10.8.1974, 10.8.1975). Annual demonstrations were held in a number of predominantly Catholic towns as well as in Belfast with rallies being used to publicise the wider political demands of the republican movement. In Belfast, particularly in the 1970s, many of the events ended with clashes with the police and army until, in the mid-1980s, in an effort to create a more positive and productive cultural environment, the West Belfast Community Festival was organised in the week prior to the Internment demonstrations. This shift from sporadic street violence aimed at the security forces to more positive community involvement leading to greater confidence and empowerment deserves closer consideration.
As we have discussed in the previous chapters there has been an ongoing conflict concerning the Easter commemorations. At an ideological level the commemoration clearly stands opposed to the state of Northern Ireland and much of the symbolism surrounding the event expresses this. Of more consequence however are the ways that such events have practically displayed physical opposition to the state. First, by the public displays of paramilitary strength that sometimes takes place during the commemorations and which effectively stand to oppose the legitimacy of the RUC in the wielding of physical force. Second, in the more direct confrontations that take place between members of the nationalist community and the RUC and British Army usually in the form of stone throwing and car burning. Particularly in the 1970s and 1980s there was an ongoing battle between the RUC and the republican movements over the control and content of the Easter commemorations. In other words, the holding of the Easter commemoration remained part of a culture of resistance in nationalist areas (Sluka 1995; De Rosa 1998).
In 1972 there was still a legal ban on parades placed there by the Faulkner government but the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, seemed keen not to have to stop the commemorations. A spokesman for the Six County Republican Executive announced that as long as their parades were unhindered they would respect Orange parades (IN 1.4.1972) and the police appear not to have interfered. In 1976 however, an armoured army vehicle broke down the gates of the cemetery chasing boys who had thrown stones at them on the Falls (IN 19.4.1976). Through the late 1970s the army and police stayed largely out of site accept for the helicopter hovering over the cemetery. In 1980 a bomb exploded at the Officials cemetery plot placed there apparently by the loyalist Tara group (IN 12.4.1982). In 1981 the Easter commemorations took place against the background of the Hunger Strikes. There was serious rioting in a number of areas including Bellaghy when the police prevented a march taking place from the house of hunger striker Francis Hughes to the centre of the village where, with a classic Paisley counterprotest tactic, the DUP were holding a service (IN 20.4.1981). Another device exploded at the Milltown Cemetery in 1982 and the RUC forced the IRSP to hold their commemoration outside the cemetery whilst devices were removed (IN 9.4.1985). In 1983 the RUC stopped a mini-bus and arrested people in uniform after the Easter commemorations (IN 5.4.1983), and in 1986 the police smashed through the gates of the cemetery and maintained a strong presence to stop paramilitary appearances (IN 1.4.1986). Into the 1990s the police and army have maintained a large presence around the Milltown Cemetery although there have been few incidents. In strongly republican areas, such as Newry and Crossmaglen, there have been appearances by the paramilitaries, sometimes with weapons, and in other areas, such as Armagh, the route taken by the parade prior to the cemetery commemorations has extended (IN 5.4.1988, 28.3.1989, 12.4.1993). In Derry, as in Belfast, given that the route from the Bogside to the City Cemetery in the Creggan is through a completely nationalist area the main reason for the police presence seems to be to reduce the likelihood of paramilitary displays. Consequently, confrontations were not uncommon and in 1989 two people were arrested after the ceremony (IN 28.3.1989).
Confrontations at Internment commemorations involved everything from clashes between the police and youths, the hijacking and burning of cars to gun attacks on police stations (IN 5.8.1973, 10.8.1974, 10.8.1975, 12.8.1977). In 1976 the rioting in west Belfast continued right through the following day, and in 1984 Sean Downes was killed by a plastic bullet when the RUC attempted to arrest NORAID spokesperson, Martin Galvin (IN 9.8.1976, 13.8.1984). Similarly with events commemorating the Hunger Strike there have been a number of incidents that have resulted in clashes between youths and the police although these have been peripheral to the main event (IN 10.5.1982, 8.5.1984, 11.5.1987).
Since the late-1980s however, there appears to have been a reduction in the number of disturbances associated with the anniversaries. The RUC presence at the Milltown Cemetery at Easter has remained high but the tension that has characterised the event for many years appears to be less. This may be due to the requirement of Sinn Féin's political campaign to highlight political issues through a set piece speech covered by the media rather than have the message getting lost in a predictable confrontation with the police. It is also probably true to say that there is a greater acceptance of the legitimacy of the republican political displays by the institutions of the state. Apart from changes in the policing, the developing discourses around cultural traditions' and community relations has undoubtedly influenced the official stance towards nationalist political expression in general. Calls to ban Easter commemorations, in the way that they were in the 1930s, are almost inconceivable.
More noticeable perhaps has been the development of the West Belfast Community Festival in the week preceding the Internment commemoration. The festival has significantly changed the atmosphere in which the demonstration takes place, becoming a broader celebration the vitality and creativity of the nationalist community directing the focus away from a commemoration of the past and instead focusing on the future (Jarman 1997:151). Again, these changes paralleled the development of Sinn Féin's political strategy to broaden the base of the republican community. Just as the republican strategy has shifted in degrees from the armed struggle to the political struggle so the importance of the commemorative occasions in highlighting political events has grown. This has become particularly marked since the start of the IRA cease-fire of 1994 and the development of a political discourse to accompany the peace process. One of the more effective ways of prosecuting such a political campaign has been to point out the continuing inequalities in political expression in the public sphere, such as the rights of the nationalist community to use town and city centres. As such, there have been some significant campaigns to claim the right to march, a move away from the No-Go areas, and back into the realm of civil rights.
The dispute over the rights of Orangemen to parade in the Obins Street or Tunnel area of Portadown in 1985 and 1986, and more recent disputes over the Ormeau Road in south Belfast and the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, meant that public attention has tended to see the right to march as a claim made by the loyal orders in predominantly Catholic areas. But throughout much of this century, and particularly during the civil right campaign, limitations upon non-unionists right to political expression have been just as significant. Since the mid- 1980s there has been a gradual extension of the rights of nationalists to use town and city centres. These changes seem to have taken place for three reasons. First, due to the political campaigns prosecuted by the nationalist community, in the main by republicans, to extend their demonstration routes. Second, due to a shift in the attitude of state institutions to certain forms of nationalist political expression. Third, the reduced political role of the Hibernians has made their events more tolerable for many unionists.
As we have catalogued in the previous chapter expressions of Irish nationalism were effectively excluded from Derry for the period of Stormont governance. With the removal of genymandering and the introduction of a more representative City Council it was inevitable that the centre of Deny would again reflect non-unionist political expression as it had up until the First World War. The political dynamics in Belfast however were quite different. No expression of Irish nationalism had been given access to the centre of the city. During the 1970s and much of the 1980s the centre of the city was regularly the target of the IRA's military campaign and Catholic areas of west Belfast developed a strong sense of self-containment. Even within Catholic west Belfast the right to march was not uncontested. The Hunger Strike march in 1986 in west Belfast was considered by the RUC to be illegal (IN 6.5.1986), as was the Internment rally in August since neither apparently gave the required five days notice. Gerry Adams argued that the Internment rally now was a traditional march and therefore did not require such notice to be given. Six people were charged with holding an illegal parade (IN 10.8.1986). In 1987, after two years of disputes in Portadown, the government introduced the Public Order (NI) Order that removed the special category of processions 'customarily held along a particular route' and increased the period of notice for all processions from five to seven days. The Easter and Hunger Strike commemoration's in 1987, under the new public order legislation, were also considered illegal (IN 21.4, 11.5.1987).
The electoral success of Sinn Féin in the Belfast Council and their involvement at the City Hall seems to have altered the relationship between the republican community and the city in general. At the start of the 1990s there were moves to extend republican parading rights. In 1990 the RUC banned Hunger Strike demonstrations from the New Lodge and Markets areas of the city which led to an action in the High Court where the decision of the RUC was upheld (Andersonstown News 19.5.1990; IN 6.5.1991). But forthe Internment rallies republicans were given permission to march along the Ormeau Road although with strict conditions: no flags, no IRA slogans to be shouted, and keep to one side of the road (IN 8.8.1990). The following year the RUC refused to give permission for a Hunger Strike commemoration through the city centre from the Short Strand and Markets to west Belfast. But later that year an Internment parade from the Short Strand was given permission to march past the City Hall en route to west Belfast (IN 6.5.1991). In 1993, in spite of protests from unionist politicians, the main Internment demonstration was allowed into the city with the rally being held outside City Hall. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness made speeches directly in front of the statue of Queen Victoria. Through the late 1980s the crowd at Internment rallies had been three to four thousand strong; in 1993 an estimated fifteen thousand people attended. The City Hall is now the annual venue for the Internment rally (Jarman 1993; De Rosa 1997), and there have been a number of subsequent republican political parades in the city centre.
Extensions to republican parading practices can be found in other areas of Northern Ireland. In 1987 and 1988 the Easter commemoration route in Armagh was extended along Railway Street and through the Shambles (IN 21.4.1987,28.3.1988). After a number of disputes over both loyalist and republican parades in Castlederg, a Nationalist Rights Committee demonstration was given access to the town in May 1995. On 26 July 1996 the Bogside Residents Group organised a demonstration from the Waterside to Waterloo Place as part of its campaign over loyal order parades in nationalist areas, thereby replicating the situation in which police had attacked civil rights activists in October 1968. On this occasion the demonstration was allowed to form up in the Waterside and proceed across Craigavon Bridge into the city. An intermittent campaign for nationalist parades to be allowed into the centre of Lurgan started in 1995 after a Saoirse parade on 30 July was opposed by unionists, including David Trimble and Peter Robinson, and blocked by the RUC. On 3 March 1996 a large 'Nationalist Right to March' rally was stopped by the RUC from entering the town centre and only on 31 August 1997 was a demonstration given access.
We think it likely that there are also other unpublished examples that suggest the access to public space given to political groups within the nationalist community has increased. As we suggested above this is in part due to changes in the attitude of the state and in part due to the developing political campaign within the republican movement. Certainly on a number of occasions the republican movement has either voluntarily, or after conditions have been imposed by the RUC, accepted changes on particular events, such as furling flags, or re-routing a few demonstrations when they have bordered loyalist areas. In the Suffolk area of west Belfast there was a dispute in 1995 as the police re-routed the Hunger Strike commemoration away from the end of the Blacks Road and the parade has been voluntarily re-routed in the years that followed. In part this seems to be a pragmatic political response to highlight the intransigence of Orangemen in not re-routing some of their parades in nationalist areas.
In the main the Hibernians and Foresters have been careful to restrict their parades to predominantly nationalist villages and have avoided larger towns, yet in recent years the Hibernians have returned to Armagh in 1987, Downpatrick in 1992 and Newry in 1994. In 1993 the Hibernians held their first ever parade in Deny although they avoided most of the city centre, however, in 1995 they did walk a route that took in the Bogside and the city centre. In 1997 the Foresters held their first parade in Belfast although they did not use the city centre. Many within unionism no longer see the Hibernians as threatening and in some senses they have become the acceptable manifestation of nationalist culture. However, the Hibernians do carry Tricolours and Papal flags and leaders of the organisation have remained determined to avoid possible disputes through their choice of parading venues. In August 1996 they cancelled their planned parade in Moy, County Tyrone, in the wake of the Drumcree crisis and in 1997 it was reported that they re-routed a feeder parade in Kilkeel (IN 15.8.1997).
We are by no means suggesting that the inequalities in access to public space that existed under Stormont have been rectified. There remain glaring examples, such as Portadown, where the RUC are likely to refuse nationalist applications to parade on grounds that the risk to public order are too great, and other places where a Catholic community would not even consider any form of symbolic expression in public. We simply note that there have been some significant changes over the last twenty years. This having been said, another aspect to the use of public space must be considered. Organised opposition to loyalist parades in Catholic areas has increased markedly in the 1990s. Before we make some concluding observation this movement needs some consideration.
In March 1992 a campaign group called the Lower Ormeau Concerned Committee (LOCC) began to agitate for the re-routing of loyal order parades away from a section of the Ormeau Road which has a predominantly nationalist community on one side of it. The campaign was precipitated by the murder of five people in a bookmakers shop in the area by the UFF and received widespread publicity when Orangemen parading through the area waved five fingers at protesters on the side of the road. The Northern Ireland Secretary at the time, Sir Patrick Mayhew, stated that the behaviour of the Orangemen would have disgraced a tribe of cannibals' (IN 11.7.1992). In the years since then there have been a growing number of residents groups mainly, but not all, nationalist protesting at loyalist parades in their area (Jarman and Bryan 1996). The most significant of these are the LOCC; the Garvaghy Road Residents Group in Portadown and the Bogside Residents Group in Derry. The Garvaghy Road Residents Group (later the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition - GRRC) was formed in 1995 with the aim of getting the Drumcree church parade and the Twelfth feeder parades re-routed. The Bogside Residents Group have opposed the Apprentice Boys parade around the section of the city walls overlooking the Bogside. Residents groups have also campaigned against parades in Bellaghy, Dunloy, Newtownbutler, Armagh, north and west Belfast, Crumlin, Downpatrick, Dromore (Tyrone), Lurgan, Newry, Ballycastle, Pomeroy, Roslea and Strabane. The make-up of the various groups has varied from place to place but whilst there is often a broad spectrum of the nationalist community involved the spokespersons for the groups have usually been republicans. The perception amongst unionists has been that what has taken place is a republican conspiracy and this was given credence by the reports on the RTE Prime Time programme that Gerry Adams had congratulated the hard work done by republicans in the different areas.
It is a common aspect of ethnic politics, such as those in Northern Ireland, that one side views the actions of the other side as part of a broad conspiracy. The truth is invariably more complex and is as much about groups having interests in common as about the development of a centralised plan. Concern over loyal order parades did not suddenly arise in 1992 on the Ormeau Road. Loyal order parades had been a focus for disturbances between 1969 to 1972; in the early 1980s there were a series of disputes over loyal order and band parades in Castlewellan, Downpatrick and Ballynahinch in County Down. Furthermore the Drumcree Faith and Justice Group had been protesting at parades on the Garvaghy Road since the late 1980s. Indeed, as we have tried to catalogue in previous chapters, campaigns over the rights, or lack of rights, to parade have been a common feature of politics in the north of Ireland. Also, quite apart from specific campaigns by nationalist groups, it is clear that during the 1980s the RUC had developed concerns about some loyalist band parades and the changing nature of certain Orange and Apprentice Boys parades (Bryan, Fraser and Dunn 1995:21). Quite simply, concern over the right to march has been an important facet of community relations for many years - it was certainly not invented by the LOCC or the GRRC.
It is more significant to ask why and in what form these disputes have arisen when they have. To begin with it is worth stating the obvious: there is a significant well of resentment towards the loyal orders, particularly the Orange Order, within the nationalist community. The role of the Orange Institution in the Stormont regime, and within the police and its continued connection with the Ulster Unionist Party means that for most nationalists, and we suspect most Protestants, the Institution as well as being a religious or cultural organisation is first and foremost political. It was intimately involved with a state that most Catholics perceive as sectarian and oppressive. This resentment has been channelled by and articulated through the residents groups even though one could make a reasonable argument that the Orange Order wields considerably less power than it used to. Ironically, or perhaps significantly, many Orange parades have become more overtly sectarian and assertive, some would say triumphalist, as the Institution's power has waned (Jarman and Bryan 1996). The more removed oppression of the state under Stormont has been replaced by symbols of inter-communal street warfare in the form of paramilitary flags and regalia. The threat felt by Catholics is more direct then ever it might have been under Stormont. The corollary of this of course is that many Protestants feel equally, and with justification, threatened by the Tricolour and the paramilitary trappings of republican events. The difference, for all the reasons we have discussed over the preceding chapters, is that those republican manifestations less often impinge upon loyalist areas. In short, the material for the political campaign run by the various residents groups was very much in place.
A number of other factors however allowed the campaigns to prosper. First, the IRA, and then the CLMC called cease-fires respectively in August and October 1994. This had two consequences for the development of residents groups. It allowed constitutional nationalists and republicans to work together in the groups in a way that previously they had not. This seems particularly significant in terms of the Garvaghy Road where in the late 1980s some tension had existed between groups and individuals opposed to the Orange parades. That is not to say there are still not tensions inmost residents groups towards the approach they might take to running the campaigns but the coalitions have stayed together. Also, the existence of the loyalist cease-fire, reducing the possibility of violent reprisals, gave many residents more confidence to be seen to oppose these events in public.
It is also clear that the issue has proved a useful and successful rallying point for the republican movement during the IRA's August 1994-February 1996 cease-fire and during the campaign for all-inclusive talks that followed the ending of that cease-fire. Particularly in 1996 and 1997 the demand by residents groups that the loyal orders should meet them in face to face talks over disputed parades mirrored the wider political environment in which Sinn Féin were demanding all inclusive talks. The general avoidance of members of the loyal orders, on the basis that they would not speak to convicted terrorists, similarly mirrored that attitude of senior unionist politicians to the peace process. However, in other aspects the debate over the right to parade proved a little more problematic for republicanism. Through 1995 and 1996 residents groups made much of the demand that they should be able to give their consent to whether a parade should go through their designated areas. Yet this argument is strikingly similar to that which unionists would make over their right to keep the six counties out of a united Ireland. In both cases a boundary appears to be arbitrarily drawn and the majority within that boundary then dictate the rights to political expression. It is interesting to note that the residents demand for consent assumed a lower profile in 1997 and was replaced by the more generalised argument for the need to have face to face talks.
The most important political reality which the parades issue brought to the fore could not have been planned by the republican movement. The response of the unionist community to the stopping of the Drumcree Church parade in 1995, and particularly in 1996, once again revealed the frailty of the state in the face of widespread unionist violence. Whether by design, or through inept handling of the dispute by senior Orangemen, the campaign to get the 1996 Drumcree parade down the Garvaghy Road relied on widespread violence bringing the authority of the a state to its knees. Thus, despite the ending of the IRA cease-fire five months earlier, it was the unionist community that appeared to the outside world as the physical aggressors. When the RUC finally changed their decision and allowed the parade to go down the Garvaghy Road they appeared to be, in the end, acting in the interests of the Protestant community. If the recent burgeoning of residents groups has much to do with republican agitation, as unionists insist, then unionists should ask themselves how they managed to give the republican movement such good material to work with.
There is a further, and we think crucially important factor which created the environment in which the recent parading disputes were likely to prosper. As we have tried to show in the previous chapters, the unionist political community, through such things as the loyal order parades and the actions of the police, effectively dominate public space in Northern Ireland. The simple change that has made much of the difference is that the RUC have become increasingly less likely to uphold that position. The changes to the force, which admittedly for many nationalists and all republicans have been too little, have been enough to mean that they are no longer necessarily willing to support a status quo of unionist dominance of public areas. Attempts to police the communities in an even-handed manner was bound to expose the inequalities that had previously existed. If the RUC is to make the transition to a service which, in the eyes of the world, will treat all sections of the communities with equity, then it would have to deal with the fact that some groups were given rights to march almost everywhere, whilst for others such rights were restricted. For the RUC this process has failed to bring greater acceptance of the force from the nationalist community and has increased its alienation from the unionist community.
The evidence we have discussed in this chapter suggests that since the early 1 970s the forces of the state have become more tolerant of republican political expression and less tolerant towards certain elements of loyalist political expression. This change has taken place in a situation where the loyal orders had, and to an extent still have, a massive domination of public space. Since the 1960s unionism has lost much of its political power and has fragmented. The Orange Order has seen an overall reduction in its membership with elements of both the middle class and working class leaving (Bryan 1996). A number of loyal order parades have developed a more overtly aggressive style as communities have become more divided. The British state has increased its direct involvement in Northern Ireland pursuing policies driven by some very different interests than were present with a local Parliament. The RUC, the British Army and changes to legislation have reflected the interests of the British state and have modified the policing regime in Northern Ireland. Official discourses around the acceptance of 'two traditions' has developed and shaped public policy. At the same time the republican movement has developed a strategy of resistance that relied first on violent struggle, but then increasingly on political development. These factors and others have led to changes taking place over the utilisation of public space. Much of the tension over parades over the past few years has resulted from these changes.
Seen in the context of the rights and restrictions surrounding parades and demonstrations in Ireland the recent disputes should not be a surprise. Northern Ireland has been going through a process of transition in which the loci of political power have been changing. It is still part of the British state but that is a state with different interests than those that formerly dominated in a Northern Ireland. Through years of struggle many within the Catholic community have understood that whilst pushing Britain out of Ireland may remain a distant goal, effective agitation, such as that on parades, can bring political empowerment. What is equally clear is that whilst the state has made some adjustments in its relationship towards various communities in Northern Ireland the level of toleration within communities to the public political expressions of others has remained extremely low. The result is that the police have invariably had to aggressively enforce or protect the right to demonstrate or protest. Taking into account the well document history of the relationship between the Catholic population and the RUC and the increasing friction between the police and parts of the working-class loyalist population continuing confrontation over public political expression remains depressingly likely.
The right to public political expression is a right cherished within the western democratic tradition. Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that
Everyone has the right to freedom of assembly and to freedom of association with others.This right is qualified by suggesting that
No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.There is no absolute right to hold a parade or demonstration. Rather a duty is placed upon the state to make judgements on the limitations that might be placed upon the right to free assembly in a democratic society. A survey of western democratic societies reveals that such a judgement is made in different ways in different societies (Hadden and Donnelly 1997; Jarman, Bryan, Caleyron and De Rosa 1998). The relative merits of the differing systems might be argued over (Kretzmer 1983), but what is surely without question is that the right to freedom of assembly should be judged on the same basis for everyone in a particular society. It seems to us therefore that it is the responsibility of the state to facilitate the rights of all regardless of an individual or a communities direct access to power. What we hope has become clear in the preceding chapters are that prior to partition, during the Stormont era, and since the introduction of direct rule the state has frequently, even consistently, failed to do this. Rather the right to freedom of assembly has often been used as a tool by one group to threaten or oppress another group. Mass assemblies have been a function of local power not of democratic rights.
The practice of holding parades and demonstrations has been widely utilised by the variety of political/religious communities in the north of Ireland. It has therefore reflected particular political interests during any historical period. It can be better be understood by looking at the relationship between the state and various political communities; by looking at how that relationship is articulated through legislation and the police; by looking at local conditions in particular areas; and by looking at the responses that local communities feel able to make within the wider political environment. It is possible, we believe, to try and distinguish some of the factors that have influenced the ability of local communities to exercise the right to free assembly.
(1) Population Balance & Communal Deterrence
It is clear that in some areas the relative difference of size of the two communities has made political displays by a minority community impossible. Frank Wright (1987, 1996) has characterised the formation of organisations such as the Ribbonmen and the Orange Order in terms of being forms of communal deterrence in an environment in which representative violence is present; individuals are attacked because they are identified as representing a particular group.
The condition of representative violence is very simple. If anyone of a greater number of people can be 'punished' for something done by the community they come from, and if the communities are sufficiently clearly defined, there is a risk that anyone attacking a member of the other community can set in motion an endless chain of events. Everyone might be a targetfor something done in their name and without their approval (Wright 1987:11).Public demonstrations particularly at the end of the eighteenth century and in the first half of the nineteenth century were an expression of local community division even if they took place as part of a church service. Within a cycle of representative violence public displays could prove threatening to the other community. Parades played a role in defining the identity of the differing communities but they also actually and symbolically developed as an expression of physical violence. The carrying of symbolic weapons and of banners bearing military images remains a part of many parades today. The founding of many organisations, the physical displays by those organisations, and the symbolic repertoire used were all aspects of communal deterrence.
The control of public space through symbolic displays was to an extent bound to be dependent on the relative size of the particular communities. This, as we have catalogued, is particularly clear in Portadown where attempts by the Catholic community to reflect their religious or political aspirations were restricted to the small Obins Street area of the town, and the raising of a green arch could readily precipitate civil disturbances. During the period when the Royal Irish Constabulary was relatively representative, policing was forced to reflect the will of the majority population and in places such as the city of Derry, where Catholics formed a substantial part of the population, their rights to parade were more likely to be facilitated.
The local economic and political dynamics involved in communal relationships are complex but detailed historical analysis can reveal much (Gibbon 1975; Wright 1996). Crucial in such an analysis is an examination of the role of the institutions of the state specifically the police and the judiciary.
(2) The Police
The most obvious tool of the state in controlling public space is the police. The holding of assemblies in Ireland has been closely related to changes in forms of policing and the role of magistrates. At particular periods in the nineteenth century the state clearly utilised Protestant organisations of communal deterrence, relying upon the physical violence wielded by the Protestant community, to control the action of sections of the Catholic community. For much of the century the police could be equally repressive towards all forms of assembly. Disturbances in the 1 820s were so common that the government was continually looking for ways to restrict parades. But for legislation to be effective from the 1830s through to the 1870s a national Constabulary was developed which replaced local forces. Although the RIC were still likely to reflect the realities of local communal strength, and more likely to defend Orange interests, they would act to limit political expression if it became too much of a threat to public order. Confrontations between parades and the police were common in Belfast, Deny, Lisburn, Lurgan, Portadown and Armagh throughout much of the nineteenth century. Put simply, when the police were broadly representative of the wider community, it attempted to control excessive assertiveness by any political community but within a political structure that tended to favour bourgeois/Protestant/unionist political interests.
The function of the police in controlling the right to assembly becomes more important after partition and the formation of the RUC. The lack of Catholic representation and the partisan nature of the B Specials along with the use of Emergency Powers provisions meant that public space was dominated by unionist political interests. This is not to say that the interests of local Protestant communities and the police force were always one and the same. Disputes over loyalist parades in Ballarena, Dungiven and the Longstone Road during the 1940s and 1950s reveal occasions when local police felt that the assertiveness of the Protestant community had crossed a line that threatened public order and that those parades should be restricted. But the more significant point is that almost any nationalist political expression could be seen as threatening to public order and therefore restricted. In the case of constitutional nationalism restrictions were based upon the balance of local populations and the symbolic assertiveness of displays of Tricolours. Public displays that seemed likely to provoke a reaction from the Protestant community were dealt with by the police and consequently nationalist parades were restricted to predominantly Catholic areas. Only the development of the civil rights movement, and increased media coverage, exposed these inequalities to the world.
Under Direct Rule both Protestant and Catholic communities were given rights of political expression but the limits to those rights as policed by a predominantly Protestant force were completely different. Expressions of constitutional nationalism have proved relatively unproblematic since the SDLP has not utilised public demonstrations within its political campaigns and the most important nationalist parading organisation, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, has declined in strength and avoided street confrontation. Even so, carrying the Tricolour and the Papal flag has been opposed by unionists in some areas. The relationship between the republican movement and both the forces of the state and the Protestant community has provided far more conflict. Particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, when republicanism was dominated by its military campaign, many commemorations were an extension of the wider resistance to the state and many in the Protestant community, unsurprisingly, perceived the displays as threatening. Since most commemorations were restricted to predominantly Catholic areas the major confrontations depended on the political environment and the tactics that the police and army deployed during the events. However, it is noticeable that there has been a growing acceptance by the forces of the state of republican political expression and, as the focus of that expression has shifted from the paramilitary to the political, from the IRA to Sinn Fein, demonstrations and commemorations have begun to gain greater access to city and town centres. In some respects the form of opposition to the state has returned to the tactics of the civil rights movement and away from than military confrontation.
It is also clear that under direct rule the methods of policing loyal order parades has changed. As many loyalist parades reflected the influence of paramilitary groups in the displays of the blood and thunder bands tension has increased. Since the early 1980s the RUC have become less willing to facilitate loyal order parades in predominantly nationalist areas and since 1995 the police have banned, re-routed or placed conditions on loyal order and loyalist band parades in a number of areas, while the loyal institutions have themselves re-routed others. Whilst unionist organisations still dominate in the control of public space there has, in the 1990s, been significant developments in the access police have given all political groups to civic areas.
(3) Government and Legislation
The third level at which the control of public political expression has taken place is at the level of government. For much of the nineteenth century political movements could be perceived as a problem if in their public manifestations they led to civil disturbances. Parades by Ribbonmen and Orangemen in the 1820s and 1830s were seen as a problem and as such various forms of legislation were used to suppress organisations and their public activities. After 1872, when the Party Processions Act was removed from the statute book, the development of the railway system allowed for the organisation of larger public events and the Home Rule and Unionist movements gave impetus to various organisations. The tenant rights movement utilised large meetings in its campaign, the Orange Order grew rapidly through the 1880s and 1890s and by the turn of the century the Ancient Order of Hibernians could organise similarly large meetings. The Orange Order in particular had drawn in more members of the urban bourgeoisie and rural landed classes and, with the franchise extended, MPs used Orange demonstrations to display themselves to their electorate. Demonstrations and mass meetings were a more significant part of the political process than they had been in the first half of the century. In these conditions there was little likelihood of legislative controls being introduced in spite of the persistent civil disturbances that accompanied political displays.
The reaction of the Stormont administration to the different Catholic, nationalist and republican public displays varied. In the main institutions such as the Catholic Church and the AOH did not transgress communal boundaries and were not seen as a direct threat to the state. On the other hand, expressions of Irish nationality through the display of the Tricolour and Easter commemorations were seen as threatening. Of course, given the military campaigns by the IRA and the political stance of various Dublin governments a perception of threat was not without foundation. However, the use of the Special Powers Act to suppress political opposition to the state had more to do with sustaining the position of a unionist elite than it did with the unlikely possibility that the elements of the republican movement or the southern government could force a United Ireland. In this respect it is interesting that left-wing political movements were not only often dealt with as if they were simply expressions of Irish nationalism but Unionist Party leaders regularly asserted that Bolshevism, Republicanism and Catholicism were all part of the same conspiracy to bring down the northern state. This was most evident during the campaigns on the Outdoor Relief Schemes in 1932. As such, the sustaining of a state of emergency and the use of the Special Powers Act to a great extent became tools to enable the unionist elite to maintain power.
Restrictions of public political expression took place within a changing political and economic environment. The complex relationship between diverse loci of power - Stormont government, the Northern Ireland Civil Service, British government, the Orange Order, the RUC, and various class factions within the Protestant community - meant that reaction to nationalist public political expression was not consistent. For instance, in 1945 pressure from the new British Labour government brought some relaxation in the use of the Special Powers Act although many of pre-war restrictions were effectively instituted in the Public Order Act of 1951 and the Flags and Emblems Act of 1954. More importantly, in the 1960s, a politically assertive civil rights movement developed at a time when debates about the position of Catholics within Northern Ireland had started to develop within unionism and television could record the moments of oppressive police action by the RUC. This meant that ability of a Stormont regime to maintain its control on public political expression was undermined. Indeed, the control of parades and demonstration could now be used as a political weapon with which civil rights activists and republicans could expose and split the Unionist Party.
In general, successive Stormont governments used a variety of legislative devices to control the public arena in such a way as to limit alternative forms of political expression. This of course is something that every state does, but it is not unreasonable to characterise the limitation on the rights to parade, placed by unionist regimes on large sections of the population. as oppressive. The fears and anxieties that lay behind these restrictions need to be understood but in the final analysis they led to clear inequalities of treatment between different communities in Northern Ireland. After the introduction of Direct Rule in 1972 the attitude of successive British governments has been either to maintain the status quo or to go some way to solve 'the problem' by actively introducing reforms. But reform, or movement away from the status quo, was viewed by unionists as undermining their position. In terms of the control of public space the most significant change came with the introduction of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 which removed any specific rights for public processions granted to parades customarily held upon a particular route. In legislation at least traditional parades were to be treated as any other parades.
There is a common thread running through the changes in the relationship between the state and the right of public political expression. The main arbiter of the right to parade has continued to be the police guided by public order legislation. Unlike countries such as the USA, with a written constitution and a Bill of Rights, judgement on rights to public political expression rarely seem to be made by the judiciary. Indeed, any American examining the parade disputes since 1995 is bound to be struck at how little of it has been fought in the courts. This has meant that the government has wielded great power in controlling public political expression.
The fourth way in which parades have been restricted may be described as self-censorship. It is clear that assertive public expressions of political identity can quickly become the site of confrontation and communal violence. Such confrontations inevitably disturb the more general sense of community that has existed particularly in rural areas. Rosemary Harris, and other social scientists since, noted the commonalties that exist between the Protestant and Catholic communities and the social ties that mitigate against complete division (Harris 1972, Bufwak 1982, Buckley 1982). The maintenance of relationships between the two communities requires tolerance and what might be characterised as 'decency' in public (Buckley and Kenney 1995). This element to social behaviour is common to both communities. Conservative elements will look to preserve the status quo and try to avoid the more confrontational aspects of inter-communal relationships, whilst still maintaining the integrity of the two communities. Parades may serve to strengthen bonds within communities but they threaten fragile inter-communal relationships. As Ó Dochartaigh points out 'When people on both sides put themselves out on the street and allow themselves and their politics to be seen, it disrupts aspects of a delicate communal harmony based on a sort of wilful mutual ignorance' (Ó Dochartaigh 1997:37).
This, we suspect, goes some way to explaining why, on a number of occasions under Stormont, the Home Affairs Minister and the RUC felt that some Orange parades had become too assertive and transgressed communal boundaries. It also explains why institutions within the Catholic community, specifically the Catholic Church and the AOH, have been less assertive in expressing their public identity. The conservative nature of the Catholic Church meant that it was rarely likely to push public political boundaries. The only occasion this took place was during the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 1932 when open public displays in the north played a part in increasing sectarian tensions. The AOH went to greater and greater lengths to avoid confrontations as the century progressed. It restricted its events to areas where confrontations were unlikely and between 1971 and 1975 imposed a voluntary ban on parades. In other words, despite a continued allegiance to a United Ireland, significant elements within the Catholic community accepted their inferior position in terms of the use of public space as a cost in maintaining public order.
An examination of nationalist and republican parades and commemorations reveals how much the development of particular forms of cultural 'tradition' are dependent upon political power. In Northern Ireland the holding of parades is generally perceived to be predominantly a part of the Protestant 'tradition'. We have tried to show that the development of such a 'tradition' has relied upon the maintenance of political power and that conversely the withering and under-development of a Catholic parading 'tradition' has much to do with the relative lack of power of that community. By looking at relationships of power we can start to understand why there are no longer nationalist parades around the walls of Derry; why there are no 'traditional' nationalist routes through the centre of Lurgan, and why there nearly ten times as many loyalist parades as there are nationalist are every year. Similarly, by looking at relationships of power, we can begin to understand why there are no longer any Orange parades in the Falls area of Belfast; or why in 1997 no 'traditional' Orange parades went down the Ormeau Road or through Dunloy.
There are many social reasons for taking part in parades and demonstrations and we do not hold to the view that parades in Northern Ireland are simply about communal power. Orange parades are not simply a manifestation of 'croppies lie down' and republican commemorations are not in themselves a demand for 'Brits out'. They are complex events that work at a range of symbolic and sociological levels. Nevertheless, access to public political expression, and the development of 'traditional' events in the north of Ireland has been mediated through access to power. Communal opposition is often expressed through the arena of mass public political displays by one party often at the cost of another. Rarely, if ever, have there been attempts to offer the right of public political expression as a right held equally by all regardless of political and communal affiliation. Ironically, even the revered Orangeman William Johnston who held that everyone (even the Fenians) should have equal rights to parade, has since been used by one community to claim rights that that community has consistently denied to the other. In 1954 G.B Hanna, Home Affairs Minister, remained faithful to the principles that William Johnston espoused during the disputes over Orange Parades on the Longstone Road.
I am quite satisfied that, were I to ban a Republican or any other opposition procession or meeting in one part of the country and not only to permit an Orange procession in a Nationalist district but to provide police protection for that procession, 1 would be holding our entire administration up to ridicule and contempt (IN 16.4.54).Unfortunately most of his Cabinet colleagues disagreed.
The relationship of Irish nationalism to the assertion of the right to parade has oscillated between two positions. Parades have been utilised as an important part of a variety of political campaigns and during periods when those campaigns have mobilised large numbers of the community the parades have appeared particularly assertive. However, on other occasions, rather than aim to assert the right to parade, nationalists have challenged the right of loyalists to hold parades in certain areas. These two positions have been dependent upon particular political circumstances and the mobilisation of local communal power. In times when large numbers of people have been willing to mobilise, in support of Home Rule, during the civil rights movement, during the Hunger Strike, and through the more populist campaigns Sinn Fein has developed in Belfast and Derry, nationalism has been able to challenge the previously held boundaries within which their political displays were held. At other periods, and in other geographical locations, where the ability to extend rights of political expression have appeared impossible, then selected opposition to loyalist parades has taken place.
These two positions are not necessarily contradictory, and are both an expression of inequalities of power, but it is not politically easy to campaign for both at the same time. The civil rights movement was eventually forced through the violence of communal deterrence to withdraw from public demonstrations and the dominant strategy of communities became to defend their areas. Through much of the 1970s and early 1980s the military nature of opposition limited any form of communal campaigns both for and against parades, but from the mid- 1980s as a shift took place from the military to the political, strategies of communal control changed. The success of residents groups on the Ormeau and Garvaghy Roads has led to a high profile for the campaigns to stop some loyalist parades. But these campaigns have probably been maintained at the cost of profiling the lack of access that nationalist communities have had to towns such as Lurgan. The claim made by residents groups in 1995 and 1996 that communal consent should be sought before people had the right to hold a demonstration had serious ramifications for more generalised claims of civil rights and raised as yet unanswered questions over the rights of local communities to set the boundaries for political expression.
Whilst the inequalities of public political expression are highlighted through attempts to be more assertive in demanding parades in civic centres or by trying to block loyalist parades the fundamental problem of managing civil rights has yet to be dealt with. What a cessation of military violence does allow is the possibility that the issues raised by the civil rights movement and lost in physical confrontation can once more come to the fore. Inequalities can be dealt with by the development of a common understanding of rights rather than through physical confrontation during the utilisation of the right to march.
The fundamental answer to issues over the right to public political expression relies in the first instance upon equality. Everyone should have equal access to the right to parade and demonstrate. Everyone's right should be judged in a consistent manner. This principle should hold true whatever political system governs the north of Ireland. The difficult problem for communities in Northern Ireland is to reach an agreement over just what the limitations on the rights of political expression should be. Should a parade or demonstration be allowed anywhere regardless the tension it might cause in the communities through which a march is taking place? If limitations need to be placed upon the rights of political expression what exactly should those limitations be? If members of a community feel threatened by a parade how do you judge the level of threat and when do you decide that a parade be banned or re-routed? Should every community be allowed to dictate exactly who is and who is not allowed to demonstrate in their area? There is not a democratic society anywhere in the world that has not had to wrestle with these problems and there are no perfect solutions.
We suggest that one of the possible ways to start answering these problems is not by coming up with a strict set of rules but rather by putting in place a process through which judgements can be made. Until recently in Northern Ireland the process has involved an uneasy and unsatisfactory relationship between the RUC, the government, and local communities and has focused to heavily on the role of public order. There has been no Bill of Rights on which fundamental decisions could be made and in contrast to many other countries there has been very little role played by the judiciary. As such there has been very little case law on which decisions might be made. In January 1997, The Independent Review of Parades and Marches published a report (The North Report) which recommended setting up a Parades Commission. Under legislation which came into force in 1998, the Parades Commission will be empowered to make determinations over parades and demonstrations. This will provide a new process through which decisions are made although the RUC and the Secretary of State retain extensive powers. The proposed system is some way from being a judicial system although it may have greater flexibility to initiate mediation between opposed groups than would be the case in a more judicial format. It remains to be seen whether the Parades Commission is the right form of institution to arbitrate on these issues but what must evolve out of these changes is a more vigorous debate on the role of the state in managing public political expression on the nature of civil rights.
Whatever political structures are agreed in Northern Ireland and whatever means of arbitrating disputes over public political expression is deemed to be workable it is clear that a vibrant culture of civil rights needs to be developed. There must be a greater toleration of diverse opinion along with the recognition that the claiming of rights brings with it responsibilities. The development of such a culture will require substantial reforms to legislative and policing institutions; it will require the active commitment of British and Irish governments - which may have repercussions for the constitutions of both states; and it must be fostered by empowering the members of the community.
For much of the 1970s and 1980s the conflict in Northern Ireland, fought through political violence, meant that communities and the state were driven by military and security interests. Political rights and civil rights, were of secondary importance. But the cease-fires and the peace process have changed the political environment. In attempting to produce a widespread agreement over the political status of the north we have to think about how a variety of community relationships should be managed. In doing so we would be returning to a civil rights agenda. A key part of developing new and peaceful forms of political engagement will be the management of public political expression. To believe that parading disputes will go away when 'a solution' is found is to misunderstand the nature of the problem. The management of public political expression must be a part of the solution not the result of it. If we do not learn to manage political rights within the public arena then we run the risk of allowing 1969 to be repeated. For a political solution to work then the rights of citizens regardless of their political identity must be central and this will require significant reforms. We will be approaching a political solution when the state acts to create an environment in which citizens believe that its institutions provide fair and equitable methods of dealing with political grievances such that recourse to political violence can not be seen by any within the population as legitimate.
Whatever political environment is developed for Northern Ireland, it will be important that the state provides equal access to public political expression. The right to both an Irish and British political identity should be equally protected. This does not mean that simplistic judgements are made on the quantity of parades. We are not suggesting nationalist parades should be encouraged and loyalist parades discouraged simply because of the inequalities that nationalist political expression has suffered, rather that both loyalist and nationalist have equal rights in access to public space.
The key will be that decisions on public political expression are made on an equitable basis. This we believe demands the development of rights based culture that until now the British legal system has been unable to provide. The incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights into British legislation, announced by Home Secretary Jack Straw in October 1997, is to be welcomed but can only be the start as far as Northern Ireland is concerned. A full Bill of Rights and a judicial system capable of arbitrating those rights will be required within new political structures. These will not in themselves solve disputes but they will provide recourse for individuals and communities that feel that basic civil rights have been denied to them. This should in turn give those communities greater confidence.
At a general level it is important to recognise that cultural traditions, such as various parades and commemorations, have not existed in a political vacuum but rather have developed through relations of power. We believe that it is important that policy makers and holders of resources should engage in developing a greater understanding of cultural practices and power. In this regard we believe that it is wrong that legislation on the rights to hold processions should include any reference to the desirability of allowing a processions customarily held along a particular route' as appears in the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 [Section 8.6(e)]. Respect for local identities is important but no one community should have any greater right than another. A procession customarily held upon a particular route - a traditional parade - still reflects inequalities of power. The legislation should emphasise the desirability of allowing all processions but acknowledge that this must be balanced with the rights of others within the community.
Minority communities do not simply exist at the macro level of politics. Catholics are a minority in Northern Ireland and Protestants are a minority on the island of Ireland, but on the more local level there are many minorities and it is on the local level that parades and demonstrations have been used to enforce communal power. The Catholic community in Portadown, the Protestant community on the city side of Deny, ethnic communities in a number of areas, the gay community in Northern Ireland, all suffer very localised feelings of powerlessness. Local minority groups must feel protected and must feel that the state is willing to give them access to the rights that majority communities have. Unfortunately, whilst judgements are made in which public order considerations predominate then the majority populations in a particular area effectively retains a right of physical veto over the actions of the minority community.
It remains to be seen whether the Parades Commission will be a long-term part of a system for arbitrating on parade disputes. Whilst we recognise the potential of such a body in the present climate, and believe that the Commission can play an important role in a peace process, it may be that under new political conditions a more judicial or politically accountable body might serve the same functions. The Parades Commission has come into existence because of the failure of other institutions and it has a difficult role to fulfil in the coming years. It is likely that mistakes will be made and it would be foolish to believe that the Commission will in itself be a quick fix. The Parades Commission will only prove successful if it is provided with the conditions to develop a just, equitable, system. To achieve this may require further legislative changes, a greater involvement from the judiciary, and reform of policing.
The whole environment for policing and controlling public political expression must change. At present the main focus of policing parades has been to control public order. The police have had to be the arbiters of exactly who has the right to parade and they have done so by making judgement on public order. It is neither wise nor reasonable for the police to be making decisions over the rights to public political expression. Whilst the police must of course make judgements on public order they must in the final analysis be servants to judicial and political institutions that define and decide on reasonable rights to political expression. In providing a policing service they must be fully accountable for their actions.
Policing large crowds in the form of parades and demonstrations is a difficult task at all times. The RUC are not the only police force within western democratic systems that have come under criticism for their policing of highly charged political events. A police force is duty bound to maintain public order. However in a system where reasonable access to political rights are available it is the duty of those claiming those rights to do so in a responsible manner. This requires that those organising events also police themselves. The maintenance of public order is not simply a policing problem but one for the community as a whole. We would reiterate one of the recommendations of the North Report by calling for improved training for stewards so that those controlling events are able to act quickly at possible moments of conflict. Stewards should also fully understand the rights that demonstrators and protesters have in relation to the police and visa versa. If the communities of Northern Ireland are to expect the police to be more accountable then it is only reasonable that members of those communities are aware of their responsibilities as well as those of the police. To repeat, public order is an issue for the community not just for the police.
If, as we believe is possible, the political arena in Northern
Ireland is turning from an agenda led by political violence, to
one focused on civil rights then there will be new challenges
facing all elements of the community. In many ways we are inadequately
prepared for peace.
Political accommodation will not mean the end to political conflict in Northern Ireland. Consequently it will be important that communities develop agreed ways to manage political differences without resorting to the use of physical force.
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