It’s a fill in the blank title, predominantly because almost any adjective in the world could be used to describe the 12th of July in Ireland, depending on where you come from. That said, my own fill in the blank words would include Ridiculous, Divisive, Uncontrolled, and Tragic, just to start with. There are plenty more but I think those are my choices to sum up a whole lot of inflamed feelings, a huge cultural problem, and the profound lack of leadership witnessed all over the North of Ireland and beyond for the last few days.
First there was the guy who defended the bonfire that towered over Chobham Street homes by saying that people shouldn’t live so close to where a bonfire might be built….even if they’ve lived there forever. As ridiculous as that is to any sane human, there was an entire community of people who had no consideration for the residents that may have been hurt or killed by their actions. Their “tradition” was more important than their neighbors and not one person from the Orange Order, the police, the fire department or the government could or would step in to help the residents who were rightfully terrified that their whole lives could go up in flames. Residents were told to lock themselves INTO those houses – as if their presence there would save the homes from the inferno. When the bonfire was lit after being decorated with sectarian slogans and flags, it surprisingly didn’t turn the area into one giant fireball, but that has more to do with luck than anything else.
Then the Orange Order made the decision to have no marshals in their parades. This decision was a threat, likely designed to pressure the commission into allowing their parades to march wherever they wanted but it didn’t work. Instead, the altered route was enforced and the lack of leadership and control has resulted in days of rioting and injuries… just like they warned it would. Meanwhile, they spout off about how moderate the Order is, and how they just want to go home – when no one is keeping them from doing so, even just a street or two over. Their statements are designed to garner sympathy and they claim their heritage and tradition isn’t hateful or sectarian, while they burn effigies of religious icons, paint sectarian slogans, threaten violence, and burn or target likenesses of elected officials and religious leaders. There’s so much moderation I can barely stand it.
During the last few days and months at the Twaddell protest camp (which costs the people millions of pounds every year) and during the parades, there have been many speeches given by the leaders of the Order talking about the lack of equality – but they demand the right to trample through a neighborhood in order to celebrate their superiority. They claim that their rights are being taken away. They insist there is no connection between them and other hate groups, despite their sanctioned paraders who carry paramilitary banners and flags with the symbols of hate all over them. They speak of democratic rights and democracy – but they live in a monarchy that they constantly fight to stay part of. It’s not an absolute monarchy, but it is not quite a true democracy either, which may be a big part of the problem in the North.
And speaking of the Crown, where the hell is it when their constituents destroy whole areas of the cities in its name? Silent and safe across the sea in their homes distracting the world with babies and parties, pretending that they have nothing to do with the conflicts while part of their kingdom explodes in unbridled hate every year. There is no crackdown, no solution, and no leadership in sight, from the community level in the North of Ireland all the way up to the Queen of England herself. Why anyone would fight or die to stay part of a country that couldn’t care less about it (other than its generated revenue) is still a mystery to me.
So now that we’ve covered ridiculous, divisive, and uncontrolled, we come to the tragedy of the marching season. There are many people on both sides of this sideshow that don’t participate in the hate. There are scores of Protestants and Catholics who try to improve their communities and who teach their children to be better. There are many who want none of this done in their names or in the name of their religion. So many truly moderate Protestants reached out to the targeted politicians and the Catholic communities over the last few weeks to reassure them that the hardliners are just that – and it is a lovely and truly heartfelt gesture. Unfortunately, those voices are lost in the conflict, drowned out by the much louder stubborn calls to never surrender and to fight. Most feel too powerless or fearful to make any attempt to stop the “celebrations” and are quietly left to pick up the shattered glass and the scarred debris on the urine-soaked streets that they live on. Even the children and young adults in the North have given up on peace or integration happening in their lifetime. As if these things weren’t tragic enough, then we have the truly horrifying incident of a grown man and Orange Order leader allegedly targeting protesters with his car and nearly killing a teenage girl in her own neighborhood. When his vehicle came to a stop after trapping her underneath it, he refused to get out so that she could be helped. Witnesses said he sat there smiling and the police arrested him for attempted murder, but he is out on bail today and the media is already sympathizing with him and painting his deliberate act as an accident. His supporters showed up in court today, when his victim could not – since she is still in hospital.
That may be the biggest tragedy of the North. The victims can’t even get a fair shake and like the moderates, their voices are lost. Squabbling politicians grind away at the conditions of the Good Friday agreement while paramilitary groups flourish and intimidate at every turn. Neither side will acknowledge their mistakes that have led to a powder keg just waiting to blow and no one will back down. There is no solution in sight and the entire population suffers from the lack of true leadership and the absence of compromise. The wheels of pig-headed politics churn on toward history repeating itself again and we’re all powerless to stop it.
Last year I wrote a lot about the North and the Marching Season.This year I was almost content to let it pass by without remark, but as I watched the fires burn and the riots erupt from a world away courtesy of live-streaming technology, my heart broke for everyone in the area, regardless of their religious beliefs. I know that more restrictions on the season would explode in a resurgence of violence but I cannot figure out why it is allowed to continue and escalate every single year. It is time to hold the leaders on both sides responsible and to pressure them to bridge the gap somehow instead of allowing them to continue as usual. When a tradition is bad, it is time to let it go and when heritage means destruction, someone must be held accountable for it. Only then is there a whisper of hope for true change.