DUP Must Now Talk


Seven weeks ago the IRA shot dead 34-year-old Brian Stewart in East Belfast. Two months before that the organisation killed 47-year-old Andrew Cully in Greyabbey by firing ten shots into him as he sat in his car. Three months before that the IRA killed 31- year-old John Allen at his home in Ballyclare.

This year alone there have been two dozen IRA shootings and bombings in loyalist areas. The IRA has also intimidated several Protestant families from their homes who are now living in hostels in fear of their lives.

Following these IRA attacks on loyalists Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party without hesitation met with representatives of the IRA. The purpose of the meeting was not to appeal for an end to the ongoing bombings and shootings of Protestants or for the organisation to decommission its weapons, but to seek its support in presenting a united front to the Parades Commission.

Well, my apologies. You know it didn’t happen like that and that it was the UVF, not the IRA, which carried out those killings. Furthermore, both the UVF and the UFF, as well as killing each other, continue their campaigns against Catholics and members of the ethnic minorities in the North in gun and bomb attacks.

The DUP’s double standards are breathtaking, yet Paisley and Robinson & Co hardly blink when confronted with their hypocrisy, if and when you can find a journalist to confront them.

Last week the Parades Commission banned Orangemen from walking up a nationalist section of the Springfield Road. The Commission quoted previous breaches of the conditions it had laid down and which the Orangemen had ignored, such as the flaunting of loyalist paramilitary flags and banners, the playing of sectarian tunes and the refusal to talk to residents.

Nationalists on this part of the Springfield Road have been protesting against this march for over three decades, following the nearby burning down of Catholic homes in Bombay Street in August 1969. Sited in the heart of this nationalist area was Mackies Foundry (before it moved) which overwhelmingly employed Protestants and reminded Catholics of their second-class status. Each summer Catholics looked forward with dread to Mackies closing for the Twelfth fortnight holidays when their windows would be broken by ball bearings thrown by some of those coming from the factory. In June 1970 there was a serious riot at the time of this Orange parade up the Springfield, leading to a large number of injuries on the nationalist side and CS gas being fired by the British army and the RUC.

Throughout the subsequent years of the conflict nationalists in this area were killed in bombings and shootings in scores of sectarian attacks. To this day, their homes are regularly attacked by loyalist gangs throwing paint and petrol bombs. So, it is only natural that they resent and oppose an annual Orange parade marching through their streets, via a security gate on a peace fence which is only opened once a year for this very purpose.

However, according to the unionists nationalists are being ‘intolerant’ and are out to ‘destroy Protestant culture.’

Shortly after the Parades Commission’s ban on the Orange parade, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and loyalist paramilitary spokespersons warned that the Parades’ decision could create a ‘serious and dangerous situation’ and ‘may well kick us off into a very hot summer.’

A new group, the North and West Belfast Parades Forum, was formed to lobby the unionist position, as is their entitlement. However, it is the makeup of this forum which exposes the hypocrisy of the DUP in particular, which refuses to talk to Sinn Fein because of its alleged links with the IRA.

And so the DUP, the UUP, the Orange Order, and representatives of some Protestant churches sat down with representatives of the UVF, the UDA/UFF and loyalist ex-prisoners’ groups to draw up an appeal to the Parades Commission about the proposed conduct of the Orange parade. Representatives of the Forum also met with representatives of the nationalist residents of the Springfield Road – despite the Orange Order having a ban on meeting such groups. There was no local agreement reached but the Parades Commission took into consideration the meeting having taken place when it did a u-turn and lifted its ban.

Nationalists were furious and accused the Commission of giving into the threat of violence and of rewarding the loyalists for having merely met with them. Nationalists protested across Belfast by blocking some roads on the day of the parade. The parade passed off peacefully and the loyalists disingenuously furled their contentious paramilitary banners (which they were not supposed to carry) until they passed through the area.

From a unionist perspective it was a clever stratagem, though it left nationalists resentful. Given its success the Orange Order may well agree to talk directly to the residents of Garvaghy Road in Portadown, though this year’s return parade from Drumcree, which takes place today, Sunday, remains banned from the nationalist area.

By talking to the representatives of loyalist paramilitaries (who killed Brian Stewart just seven weeks ago) the DUP has utterly undermined the pretext it uses for refusing to talk to Sinn Fein (that the IRA still exists and hasn’t disbanded).

Over the years the DUP has been gingerly diluting its position in regard to contacts with republicans. It used to refuse to sit in the same television studios with Sinn Fein. Not any longer. Last year the DUP’s Gregory Campbell in a public forum shared a platform with Alex Maskey at West Belfast Talks Back and, again this year at WBTB, the DUP representative Jeffrey Donaldson will share a platform with Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald MEP.

If the DUP can participate in the Parades Forum with representatives of the UVF and UFF to secure, in the words of the DUP, “a mere ten-minute walk”, then how can it justify refusing to participate in talks with Sinn Fein to secure the greater objective of peace, stability and prosperity for all the people of the North?

The only explanation for its stance is sectarian bigotry or cowardice, though I am inclined to believe that it’s about an equal mix of both.

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison