Tommy Cheevers, Chairman of the North and West Belfast Parades & Cultural Forum, says the Forum is as frustrated as anyone with events around the Ardoyne this past week. For the Forum, which has engaged in dialogue over the past three years, the question now is whether anyone from Ardoyne can speak with any authority on behalf of local residents.
“At one end of the Ardoyne shop fronts a group of people hurled bricks, bottles, and petrol and blast bombs at the police. At the other end of the shop fronts stood another group impatiently waiting for their turn to enter the stage. Neither side was willing to be outdone by the other. Whichever dominates gets to say who does or does not have access to the short stretch of main road in front of some shops.
Both groups are Republicans, both made up of a mixture of local figures and others from further afield, and both believe they have a right to control and grant permission to walk along “their” road. In reality, a power play: desiring the power as to who gets to say no to the Unionists, the Protestants, the enemy; but also, who ‘controls’ the Ardoyne, “their community”.
One banner said “make sectarianism history”, with spokesmen telling us that they don’t want parades along “their” road. Yet these same spokesmen would condemn those who said they didn’t want ‘them’uns’ in their community. What difference between sectarianism and racism? Fine words of condemnation mask base emotions of hate, exclusion and intolerance.
Both sides believe they represent “Republican” ideals, while both show obvious disrespect for their Protestant neighbours who in the past have been routinely demonised by republicans to challenge policing, and now demonised to gain advantage in an internal republican conflict. The rioting to order, the bus organisation, the empty condemnations and deflection of blame has been seen before – Ormeau being the last example where the majority of those later charged for disorder offences were from outside South Belfast let alone a few streets south of the Ormeau Bridge.
Dialogue is the answer? We’d like to think so. But Ardoyne republicans, said by the Parades Commission to be capable of speaking for the Ardoyne ‘community’, have been engaged in dialogue with the North & West Belfast Parades & Cultural Forum for 3 years! Included in the NWBPCF talks’ team are senior members of the local Apprentice Boys and a District officer of the Orange Order. The Protestant community of the area is speaking with one voice locally, through the Forum, but who speaks for the Ardoyne?
It is clear that the Republican power-play has little to do with the Ardoyne community. If dialogue about parades is about accommodation, including tolerance and respect, then perhaps three years of talking should by now have provided everyone with breathing space to move on. While the Protestant community is demonised and abused, its culture denigrated and diminished on the back of Republican political manoeuvrings, it is the Ardoyne community that suffers while the thugs take over its streets and steal its voice.
Meanwhile, last Monday evening, less than a hundred yards from the Ardoyne shops Protestants stood patiently in Twaddell and Hesketh waiting for the homecoming parade of local Lodges. Once the PSNI escorted the parade up the road, the Protestant community went home peacefully.
There is a lot of talk of ‘respect’, ‘rights’, and ‘shared future’. How do Republicans expect to be respected, when a parade that would take no more than two minutes to pass Ardoyne shops is denied respect. What rights are defended through violence against peaceful cultural expression? What shared future, when less than a hundred yards of road is claimed territorially as ‘ours’? Sectarian apartheid is not a future of any sort! In what world is are three nights of riots a proportional response to a two minute walk past some shops?
Looking at the events in Ardoyne, is there any real difference between ‘dissidents’ and Sinn Fein other than rhetoric? Hard to tell. Springfield, Ormeau, Dunloy, Rasharkin, Ardoyne: the difference is time and scale. Republicans share the common goal of keeping Protestants out of sight out of mind: to each hold the power to dictate cultural expression; to create a territorial exclusion zone. Sectarian, racist, or just criminal thuggery –words and actions add up to the same difference at the Ardoyne shops.
Blaming the Loyal Orders for nights of rioting, and more generally for everything, deflects attention from the battle raging within Republicanism. However, deflecting attention and looking outside for the boyeymen, makes it even harder to provide the Ardoyne community a voice it needs to find toleration, respect and accommodation with its Protestant neighbours.”