When I first heard that a commemorative parade/march was to be held in Castlederg for two IRA volunteers who were killed while transporting a bomb in 1975, I thought it was a bad idea. Marching in general I find faintly absurd: if you want to honour someone or something, is it not possible to do so from a stationary position? Why the need to do it on the move?
Jeffrey Donaldson it seems agrees with me (not that he knows/cares what I think - it’s purely coincidence): he says Castlederg is still living with the legacy of the Troubles. “It was the location of a very high number of IRA atrocities over the years, and that legacy lives on”.
It seems difficult to dissent from that statement; like many other places in the north, the wounds of loss are still far from healed in Castlederg and environs. Then I read what Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer had to say. He claimed the parade would come from a nationalist area of the town and go through the shared space of the Diamond. Then he added “In Castlederg there are almost 20 parades from the broad unionist community every year, many of which go through the town centre, and none of which have been objected to by nationalists”.
That for me clinched the argument and should be at the centre of any dispute over parades. As I say, I’d be in favour of banning all marches of any kind: do it on the spot or not at all. But if parades/marches must happen, then there needs to be balance. And for Jeffrey Donaldson or anyone else to object to a republican commemorative march while supporting some 20 unionist marches in the same place is lacking in logic, let alone parity or balance.
Of course you’ll have noted Jeffrey’s term ‘atrocities’. And the BBC habitually refers to any IRA killings as ‘murder’, while rarely describing killings by the forces of the state as ‘murder’. But what do the 3,000 + marches here every year commemorate? A battle in which some 1500 men were killed. Do those killings become legitimate because they occurred a long time ago? Or is it that the 1500 deserved to die? Or was God not on their side? Does time dim the picture of carnage?
Orange banners habitually honour prominent warlike figures - those who led others into battle, who encouraged the slaughter of one set of human beings by another. In my book, the rightness or wrongness of an act doesn’t change because a long time has passed. So far from being in favour of banning the IRA commemoration in Castlederg, it seems to me the local republicans would be justified in holding another 19 similar marches.
It’s that old key question that so many unionists (and maybe some republicans) like to duck: How would we feel if they did to us what we’re doing to them? In this case, if the Orange goose gets its plentiful supply of sauce, it's unreasonable that a spoonful of the same sauce should be denied to the republican gander.