The Siege of Finaghy Road North


A Tyrone labourer was driving home three nights ago when just outside the village of Clough in County Down he turned a corner and was stopped by up to ten masked people who had just emerged from a lane. As far as we know they weren’t dispossessed kids-without-a-summer-school, frustrated by the bad weather and out for a bit of excitement. Nor did they belong to that feared band of international terrorists, otherwise known as Roden Street mothers-and-toddlers-group-on-steroids, who, at the drop of a nappy, can seal off the Western World.

These were serious guys.

They asked him where he was coming from and he had the presence of mind to say, Kilkeel, which in our circumscribed universe is, unfortunately, synonymous with Protestantism. They asked him where he was going, and, again, he had the presence of mind to say, Dunmurry village.

Well then, one of them said, you should know ‘The Sash’. Sing us ‘The Sash’! Somewhere, in the phantom fog of memory, sitting alongside our First Communions in St Teresa’s, the building of The Pop at the top of Bearnagh Drive, or mom-and-dad in love and doing the Hokey-Cokey, or a thin Elvis, most of us probably know a few bytes of lyrics that go, ‘it was old and it was beautiful’ and ‘it was the Sash my father wore’, but that’s probably it. And that was as far as it went for our Tyrone traveller who, heart-pounding, quickly stuck his car into reverse and slammed down the accelerator, narrowly escaping under a hail of bricks and bottles, as he prayed to God that he wasn’t going to run into another block just behind him.

He was lucky to escape with his life.

He didn’t report the incident to the RUC. What was the point? he said. What were they going to do about it. We know the answer. The answer lies in the disparity between the magnitude of the attacks on Catholic homes, on the RUC and British Army, and the number of arrests. In the magnitude of the petrol and paint bombs thrown and the number of plastic bullets fired. In the velvet-glove approach to half a dozen people blocking the M1 for five hours in comparison to the iron-fist approach to a half-hour Saoirse closure of another stretch of the West link at the Grosvenor Road just a few years ago. The poor RUC. The poor, Protestant RUC, who still don’t get it.

Firstly, let it be clear that I don’t believe that tanks should be used to run down demonstrators in the way that happened to Dermot McShane in Derry in July 1996, or that women and kids should be batoned or shot by plastic bullets. What I am saying is that there should be one law and if it proves to be excessive then people will unite in opposition to its repressiveness, and if it proves to be fair then people will support it. But the behaviour of the RUC this week is clearly understood by the world - it can’t be easy for Trevor to arrest Cousin Billy or Norman, or spray them with cold water. And that is why the RUC has to go and a new start has to be made. But given the rejection by Peter Mandleson at Westminster of the SDLP’s proposals to insert in the legislation a clear-break, things do not augur well.

While republicans have, thankfully, adopted a pragmatic approach the British, unfortunately, are still stuck in the past, still cannot get out of the old groove and a perverse loyalty to the ways of King Billy and the Orangemen. Produce a constabulary in this vein and nationalists will have nothing to do with it and, worse, some nationalists/republicans will shoot members of this constabulary. And if many support such a reaction it becomes an armed struggle and the situation is back in polarisation. This is the dice that the British toss and toy with.

Did you see Peter Mandelson interviewed on television after Harold Gracey refused to condemn the attacks on Catholic homes, the burning of cars and lorries, the setting up of illegal roadblocks, the building of barricades, the rioting and petrol-bombing of the RUC and British army, the refusal to talk with the Parades Commission, and real people - those who live on the Garvaghy Road?

"I am sorry that Harold has not condemned it… He is a peaceable man," said Peter Mandelson as if this were a tiff over a game of dominoes, and not a violent battle within unionism over the Good Friday Agreement and coming to terms with justice and equality.

If this were simply the case of people being robbed off their tradition or culture or rights then it is a battle that would have been fought before 1969. I have said this before and I repeat: the Orangemen marched up Broadway, onto the Falls Road, which was bedecked with red, white and blue bunting, and played ‘God Save The Queen’ outside Broadway Presbyterian Church (now Culturlann) up until 1965 when the demographics - not nationalist rioting or a residents group - taught them the absurdity of their position. This was their traditional route. Why aren’t they fighting over that? Better still, they marched to the Field at Finaghy Road North until the Sixties, as well. Of course, this was before the discovery of the wheel, before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and the invention of CDs. Still, it begs the question, why aren’t they fighting over the traditional route to the once-Orange capital of Ulster, Finaghy Road North?

I was dismayed when the Parades Commission, which is supposed to be objective, caved into the sectarian violence and intimidation, and proposed that the Orangemen could get marching down the Garvaghy Road within three-to-five months if they agreed to the Commission’s ‘road-map’, which includes engaging in direct dialogue. Whether Orange feet ever get on the Garvaghy Road is up to the nobility and graciousness of the people of that area, though it would be hard to stomach. Freedom is about having the choice. One resident of the Garvaghy Road said last Friday:

"I don’t care if they want to walk through my living room. But if they do they have to have the manners to rap on my front door first. That is what we want. We want them to rap the door."

In other words, we are human beings. And we are equal.

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison