If the rule of law isn't upheld, the structures of peace will lose their foundations.
Published July 1998
A year ago I wrote Dromchraoi, Tromchraoi, in response the the marching season crisis there. Despite major developments in Northern Ireland, the marching season has triggered violence in Drumcree again, sending shockwaves across Ulster.
It's misting softly on the acre - if the hunger hadn't driven people from Ireland the weather surely would have. El niño is taking its toll in Kilmichael too, grey days and more grey days. But what we need is rain, buckets of it, pouring thunderously down on the happy campers in Drumcree. An Act of God, a touch of mighty wrath, might be just what is needed to shift the campsite of righteousness opposite the Church in Drumcree.
Camping in Ireland is a precarious pleasure, murky and damp more often than not, but grand, so long as the weather holds out. Up in the field at the top of the Garvaghy Road the weather is holding fine since last Saturday, when hundreds of Orange men took up residence. They look down the hill on a Catholic community under siege. The world's media are our eyes and ears on the frontline - 800 extra troops brought into Northern Ireland
- 10 Catholic churches torched one night last week
- Guesthouse in Carrickfergus petrol bombed on Monday last. On Tuesday they came back and burnt out guests and the family
- Middle class Catholic suburb besieged by a mob, houses petrol-bombed and burnt, elderly people, young children and families driven from their homes
- Shots fired at RUC, their family homes the target of petrol-bomb attacks
- Family stopped and dragged from their car, which was then set alight
- Seamus Mallon, Deputy Leader of the new Northern Irish Assembly, jeered by Catholic residents of the Garvaghy Road as he departs after talks with the Residents Association
- Roads are closed, transport is paralysed, police helicopters hum in the heavy, summer air
- People are advised to stay at home at night so the streets become eerily quiet. The unnatural peace is broken by the stomping of feet and drum-beats of an Orange March, or by the arrival of a mob bent on violence and intimidation
- Every day begins with condemnation of the violence by prominent politicians, and by members of the Orange Order, who assure us that their protest is a peaceful one
- To date, Thursday, July 9 the RUC report that 230 homes have been damaged, over 500 petrol bombs have exploded and nearly 2000 more recovered, 50 RUC officers have been injured, over 130 people have been arrested
- Today, Thursday, July 9 the Grand Orange Order threatened that they will close down Northern Ireland by next Monday if they don't get their way
- They met with Tony Blair at Downing Street this morning
- Tony Blair has just issued a hardline statement that the anti-March ruling by the Parades Commission will be upheld
- Martin McGuinness has been visiting the Garvaghy Road, appealing to the Orange Order to accept the democratic process for the sake of all communities in Northern Ireland
In this, the marching season, we can expect over 3,000 Orange Marches throughout Ulster, celebrating the triumph of King Billy over the native Irish over 300 years ago. Most of these marches pass off peacefully but, as Drumcree shows us, it only takes one exception to turn back time, back to the dark, medieval days when papists were papists and witches were burnt. The feudal swagger of the Orange March, righteous triumphalism, drums rallying men to arms - it only takes a couple of hotheads to turn the mood, to jeer and provoke and insult.
Trench warfare claimed millions of lives in the First World War. They are entrenched in Drumcree today. Orange Men are congregating from across Ulster, thousands mill in their encampment at the top of the Garvaghy Road. Troops and RUC are in a no-man's land of barbed wire and barricades. The Catholic community of the Garvaghy Road is under siege. Everybody's dug in, there's no way of backing down for anyone.
The fledgling Northern Irish Assembly is led by David Trimble, who carved his political career on the barricades at Drumcree. His position may be untenable and, if he goes, so will the Assembly. In its place will be chaos. Over 70 per cent of voters accepted the Northern Irish Peace Agreement, selecting peace and compromise over violence and stubborness. So much for democracy! If the rule of law isn't upheld the structures of peace will lose their foundations.
We need a big raindance, for all the moderates in Northern Ireland to call for Divine Intervention - lets have rain and gallons of it- to quench the flames of extremism and dampen rhetoric. It's time that somebody or some thing defied Orange posturing. Any time their supremacy is threatened they huff and they puff. Are they bluffing? There's only one way to find out, and it seems we are about to.
Published in Essays from Ireland in In Motion Magazine - July 9, 1998.