Herman Goring is reputed to have said “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver”. The events here since Friday suggest that when the Orange Order hear the word culture coupled with the word ‘No’, it reaches for anything it can lay its hands on.
What happened on Friday in Belfast has already been given such repeated and expansive space, it’s hard to step back and disentangle the knee-jerk and glib from the factual and thoughtful. But let’s try.
- The Orange Order leaders pumped up the rioters with talk of “No surrender!” and the terrible injustice of the Parades Commission decision. They then denied that the vicious rioting which followed had anything to do with their words. To a degree they’re right: there are some people who don’t need encouragement to attack the PSNI. But the Orange Order’s fiery rhetoric added kerosene rather than cold water to the mixture.
- Any talk of the Orange culture and heritage is laughable in the face of the vicious, sometimes hysterical attacks on police vehicles and anything else that got in the way of the rioters/Orangemen.
- RTE television broadcast the words of one young marcher to the silent protestors at Ardoyne: “Youse are second-class citizens - this is our country!” Oddly, neither the BBC nor the UTV cameras/microphones managed to catch this moment.
- Which brings us to the live and edited broadcasting of the Twelfth. Walter Love did his usual how-interesting-and-charming commentary on the live morning programme. The evening programme on UTV (I didn’t see the BBC counterpart programme) was side-splitting. In the news before the edited highlights of the Twelfth, we had footage of the savagery and vitriol which accompanied the day. Immediately afterwards we had the soothing tones of Paul Clark presenting the Walter-Love-type highlights of happy marching bands and grandas eating ice-cream in the sun. Is there no irony department in UTV?
- We really shouldn’t be surprised by this latest outbreak of barbarism on the Twelfth. The history of the Twelfth, for at least two centuries now, is littered with the same kind of social upheaval, drunkenness and bigotry that were on display on Friday. Why has no politician the guts to suggest the obvious: the Orange marches themselves are the problem, not what erupts once the drums start banging.
- Do the Parades Commission decisions have any standing in law? Because it’s obvious that the Orange Order has decided to simply ignore its determinations. Hymns while passing St Patrick’s Church? Don’t be daft - a blast of the sash there, men. And march on the spot while you’re doing it. Unwittingly, the Orange Order may have a point: if the Parades Commission doesn’t have any power to see that its rulings are enforced, it really isn’t serving much purpose, is it?
- Does the brick which struck Nigel Dodds bring him and the DUP closer to or further away from the alienated section of East Belfast? One newspaper report suggested the brick was aimed at Dodds, not the police, because of the contempt the rioters had for his efforts to bring about an end to rioting. He’ll certainly receive some sympathy for putting his head on the line, so to speak, and suffering for his beliefs. Whether that suffering came about because somebody had a bad aim or a very good one may ultimately be seen as irrelevant.
- My old chum Nelson McCausland was eloquent on the rioting being provoked because loyalists saw republicans being rewarded for their rioting a year ago. Mmm. And of course flying the Union flag on thirteen or whatever number of days annually was another outrage that meant loyalist rioting was ultimately traceable to the Alliance Party. Right?
- Final point: loyalism is showing all of the characteristics of a community that feels the ground falling away from under its feet. When you suffer that kind of insecurity, you’re likely to say or do anything.