Monday, July 09, 2007

Fading Into Insignificance

They used to march along the Garvaghy Road, beating their drums, triumphant. The Protestants were still in the ascendancy in Portadown, and the members of the Orange Lodge were sure to remind the nationalists of that very fact. Every year for 200 years, bowler-hatted and orange-sashed, they paraded their sectarianism.

Ten years ago, the powers that were in the north of Ireland figured out that rioting and violence could be averted if the Orange Order was not allowed to parade down the Garvaghy Road, where the Catholics and the Shinners were ready to meet them with bricks and bottles. Policing such hotspots cost a great deal of money, and there was a tremendous savings to be had by blocking the road. And so, in 1998, a barricade went up and the Orange Order was told to go around.

Every Sunday since 1998, members of the Portadown Orange Lodge have gone up to where the barricade sits and have made a protest about not being allowed to proceed through the Catholic part of town. They have their rights, after all, to behave idiotically, and how dare the government deny them free access?

The Drumcree parade, once the watchword for sectarianism and violence, passed off yesterday amidst a radically changed world. The DUP is sitting in government with Sinn Fein, and there were hardly any police monitoring the parade route. The British Army was noticeably absent, as were any protesting Shinners. No one much noticed the lodge members at the barricade, where they postured and puffed up with importance.

They protested the barrier for ten years, but their cries went unanswered. They still want to parade down the Garvaghy Road, but the new devolved government has told the lodge to go talk to the Parades Commission if they have a problem. As far as the Parades Commission is concerned, the lodge can march wherever they like, as long as the residents say it's all right. But the residents won't be bothered talking with the lodge, so where does that put them?

Darryl Hewitt of the Portadown Orange Lodge lodged a protest at the barricade yesterday, in the midst of a lashing rain. Here I am, he said, to talk to the residents and iron out our differences. So who's not willing to talk now? It used to be us, the Orange Order, and now the Catholics aren't willing to bend.

The Catholics simply don't care. Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd said that talks could start now that the parade ended peacefully, but they have to wait on the appointment of a mediator and these things take time.

Mr. Hewitt stood at the barricade yesterday and postured grandly, proclaiming that he was there to talk, after ten years, and since the Catholics weren't there waiting on him, well, it's all their fault, then, isn't it? Where are they now?

Armagh played Derry in County Monaghan on Sunday, while Mr. Hewitt was making himself available for talks. Obviously, the football match was a higher priority. Some other time, perhaps, Mr. Hewitt?

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