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OrangeFest 2010 and the right to demonstrate

2:31 pm - July 13th 2010

by Dave Osler    

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Repackaging a deliberately intimidatory display of religiously-based ethnic supremacism as an all-inclusive carnival offering fun and frivolity for the whole family was always going to be a tall order.

But that’s just what Northern Ireland has been trying to do for the last three years, with the Loyalist marching season now officially known as OrangeFest, a moniker redolent of a discontinued east European brand of soft drink or perhaps the harvest celebrations in Seville.

Here’s the soft sell to the tourists, courtesy of the Belfast Visitor & Convention Bureau:

OrangeFest has become increasingly family friendly, and now includes acts for children to enjoy such as face-painting, juggling, stilt-walking and bouncy castles. And for fans of all things pyrotechnic, the spectacle of the annual Eleventh night bonfires all across Northern Ireland will certainly be a memorable one.

Well, I guess the category ‘all things pyrotechnic’ must logically include petrol bombs, and anybody in town specially for the party last night will be additionally grateful for having gotten their money’s worth.

As has been widely reported, a section of nationalist youth – inspired by dissident Republicans – has mounted physical attacks on entirely lawful Orange Order processions.

Concrete slabs and bottles have been returned with rubber bullets and water cannon. Dozens of police have been injured, and the overall impact will cost the local basket case economy millions.

I have argued before on this blog that the democratic left should be unconditionally in favour of the right to demonstrate. That proviso applies to viewpoints the democratic left itself finds detestable.

Earlier this year, Islam4UK sought permission to stage a protest in Wooton Bassett, the small town near Swindon through which hearses bearing the coffins of servicemen and women who lose their lives in Afghanistan regularly drive. This now seems to have been a stunt on the part of this outfit, which is as publicity-savvy as it is odious.

If the English Defence League planned to take to the streets in my area, I would of course be part of the counter-demonstration. But I would not call on the state to outlaw a peaceful EDL mobilisation.

But there are circumstances in which the right to demonstrate can properly be circumscribed, and attempts to catalyse confrontation between communities is the clearest example.

When British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley attempted to walk a sizeable contingent of Blackshirts through the Jewish parts of East London in 1936, the left was right to take the lead in stopping him, by any means necessary.

The analogy between the Battle of Cable Street and OrangeFest 2010 is far from absolute. But whatever efforts the tourist board has made to tart up the Orange marches, their goal remains what it always has been, and that is to make sure the croppies lie down.

There are some sensible contemporary observations on all this from Conall McDevitt, the SDLP assembly member for South Belfast, here. As he makes plain, the effect of the whole shebang is to put nationalist areas under temporary occupation.

McDevitt argues that if OrangeFest is going to do what it says on the tin, the demos should at least be rerouted through the city centre. He is indisputably right; otherwise you might just as well be honest enough to market it as HateFest, and have done with it.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Religion

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Reader comments

Please don’t fall into the trap of assuming it is only Nationalists who find the whole thing offensive. As a Northern Irish Unionist (not the flag-waving bigoted kind so often seen in the media, just a soul who prefers to be a UK citizen) I can say that a great many Protestants find the parades and associated violence quite abhorrent.

In my mid-sized community outside of Belfast we were treated to the following ‘festivities’ in the run-up to the main event:

– a huge bonfire built illegally on land which had previously been a popular area for dog walkers and is now a scorched wasteland littered with bottles and beer cans.
– temporary huts being built in the weeks before the bonfire was lit, where volunteers hung around 24/7 to “protect” the bonfire. Protection being turning to area into a drinking den for themselves from where they could peddle their paramilitary-supplied drugs to local kids.
– 48 hours non-stop blasting of an illegal sound system, fighting in the street and vandalism of the homes and cars of local Protestants who didn’t fully support their local Orange thugs.
– Frequent bouts of gunshots being fired into the air
– More than a few cases of young girls being plied with alcohol and drugs before being sexually assaulted by older men.

Of course, the police received numerous detailed complaints about all of this and even visited the site a few times before taking the decision to completely ignore it and let ordinary people suffer helplessly.

Despite living in an estate of over 4000 people which is at least 90% Protestant only around 50 people turned up for the so-called festivities. Most of them were curious onlookers, with a core of 15-20 Loyalists running the show. The other 3,900+ Protestants in the area locked their doors and waited nervously for the ordeal to end.

Apologies for the rant, I get upset when the Orange Order silly season gets portrayed as an event that only brings pain to Nationalists. A huge proportion of the Unionist community finds the idea of drunken Loyalist louts representing our culture grossly offensive. Unfortunately we can’t come out and protest in the same way as Nationalists because we still have to live in the same areas as these thugs.

We perhaps live in the same town. We may be neighbours. Your account rings so true with my own experience.

When I was younger I used to enjoy 11th night bonfires. I was a young Prod but I’d little interest in the politics, it was just a great opportunity to drink, chase girls and stand around a bloody big fire. There’s something primordially attractive about a drinking with your mates in the open air around a bloody big fire at night.

I’ve now even less time for the politics of loyalism and it’s attempts to present it as a tourist attraction is just so unconvincing. And I know that many loyalists think it’s a lot of balls as well. For them the 12th is political and/or religious, not a commercial venture.

But I think we need to be careful in how we understand the Orange Order. It is a sectarian organisation but that’s not all it is. If all it was was a forum for hating Catholics I suspect it’d be confined to the old dustbin of history by now. It has deep roots in the northern Protestant community, playing a variety of roles and serving various functions, on of which is giving some sort of meaning to its members in a world were ‘all that is solid melts into air’.

I’ve never been convinced that just opposing the Orange Order would get rid of it. In Northern Ireland at the moment, as it is interpolated into contemporary capitalism, the real question is what do you put in its place? Consumerism?

I have argued before on this blog that the democratic left should be unconditionally in favour of the right to demonstrate. That proviso applies to viewpoints the democratic left itself finds detestable.

Yes, completely agreed.
But it’s mostly the right that hate people demonstrating.

The Orange Order is to Catholics what the KKK is to Blacks despite the efforts to disguise it and dress it up as a “family day out”. If Orange Parades hadn’t been invented and in today’s more PC climate, someone attempted to organise one for the first time, I doubt very much it would be allowed to go ahead.

“Freedom of Assembly” and “Right To Demonstrate” are core values that should be cherished, unfortunately the Orange Order do not cherish them, they abuse them and do not give a damn to the cost involved to the taxpayer to police their sectarian events. As long as they can lawfully and legally tell Catholics what they think of them, that’s all that matters. “It’s their way or no way”.

The whole thing is tangled up in a web of deceit and hypocrisy – I mean “Protestant Culture?” It’s not Protestant Culture – it’s Loyalist / Unionist culture. It’s tribalism, it’s a form of identity, it’s an opposition to Catholicism / Irishness, it’s all these things and much more but it has nothing to do with Christianity, nothing at all. I think if orange bands were made up of people who actually attended a Church once in their lives, the whole 12th July parade would consist of 4 fluters and 3 drummers.

It’s disgusting that in this day and age, this type of naked racism and sectarianism is allowed on our streets at all – but it’s so ingrained into our history, no politician wants the job of pulling the plug on it.

Thankfully, the monster that is Orangeism is slowly dying out – I mean the fact that they need to “rebrand” it into a family day out with face painting and bouncy castles …. that would never have happened 30 years ago.

Rioting, petrol bombing, pipe bombing and trying to kill police women.
All legitimate replies to those horrible orangeists.


I don’t think anyone was suggesting it was a legitimate response, but as always in Northern Ireland the people on one side of the controversy are as bad as the other side. I still remember the Drumcree-sparked riots which saw Loyalists across the country rioting, shooting at police and destroying their own communities over a legally-blocked parade.

Similarly, can you imagine what the response would be from Loyalists if the police decided to actually uphold the law during the Eleventh Night ‘celebrations’ instead of sitting back and allowing Loyalists to do as they pleased? There wouldn’t be any streets left to parade through the next morning.

7. congal claen

“a deliberately intimidatory display of religiously-based ethnic supremacism”

Good to see you haven’t swallowed the republican propaganda hook, line and sinker there Dave!

FYI, the fascists that are so against OO parades are the same fascists that were against remembrance day parades – hence Enniskillen. However, as that didn’t play too well on mainland UK they have since wound back a bit from that. Incidentally, the republicans also planted a bomb in Tullyhommon on the same day as Enniskillen. The device failed to detonate. The target there – members of the GB and BB, ie teenage kids. Maybe I’m a bit different, but I’d much rather be intimidated thro music and flag waving than having to collect the body parts of children in plastic bags. But that’s just me…

8. congal claen

A few further thoughts Dave – you link the demo against Orangefest to opposing Mosley. Do you know anything about Irish Republican roots?

For instance, you do know that Fine Gael, the more liberal of the main Irish parties means “party of the Gael” and Fianna Fail means “Warriors of Destiny”? Can you imagine an Anglo Saxon party in the UK or Warriors of Destiny? Fine Gael was formed from the Blueshirts – Irish Fascists. The IRA themselves had dealings with the Nazis, most notably thro Thomas Russell. They also fought on the Fascist side in the Spanish Civil War. De Valera commiserated with the German Ambassador on Hitler’s death.

Yet you choose to think that it’s the Loyalists who are the Fascists!

9. Matt Munro

7/8 – So no loyalist has ever killed anyone ?

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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    OrangeFest 2010 and the right to demonstrate http://bit.ly/a7wRVf

  2. Malcolm Evison

    OrangeFest 2010 and the right to demonstrate | Liberal Conspiracy: http://bit.ly/bhCIsg via @addthis

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