GERRY MORIARTY, Northern EditorIrish Times
14 July 2008
THE ORANGE Order demonstrations over the Twelfth of July concluded without major incident with the most contentious of the parades at the Ardoyne shops in north Belfast ending peacefully on Saturday night.
Throughout Saturday in Northern Ireland tens of thousands of Orangemen, hundreds of bands, and many thousands more supporters participated in 18 Orange Order parades and one Independent Orange Order parade at Portglenone in Co Antrim.
Through co-operation with Northern Ireland Tourism and Tourism Ireland, Orange Order leaders laid particular emphasis this year on the "Orangefest" theme - promoting the celebratory, historic and cultural nature of the Twelfth.
This emphasis led to some success as there was a noticeable lessening of tension, although there were a number of minor incidents on the night of the 11th and on Saturday. It was also evident that more big stores remained open during the parading.
Equally, there were some paramilitary and sectarian references during the main parade in Belfast on Saturday that challenged the Orangefest emphasis. One band from Rathcoole in north Belfast displayed a number of "KAI" signs during the main parade, which is generally interpreted as meaning "kill all Irish", with one bandsman having the word emblazoned on the back of his head.
Another band from the Shankill honoured Brian Robinson, the UVF member who was shot dead by an undercover British soldier in north Belfast in 1989 after he carried out the sectarian murder of a Catholic, Patrick McKenna.
But relative to the huge numbers participating and observing, the Twelfth concluded successfully. Orange leaders, police and politicians were happy it passed off so well. PSNI assistant chief constable Duncan McCausland said fewer officers were on parade duty this year, which freed up officers to focus on crime and normal policing.
In 2005 and 2006 there were scenes of fierce rioting at Ardoyne shops during the return journey of an Orange Order feeder parade. This year local Orange and nationalist representatives forged a deal to try to ensure there would be no trouble at the flashpoint.
Nationalists staged a protest as the feeder parade went by on Saturday night. Minutes earlier at 8pm, Orange supporters were driven past the shops on three buses. As they passed two windows were pushed out of two of the buses, the glass shattering on the road. A number of golf balls were also hurled.
On Saturday night the PSNI used CS spray when trouble erupted in Rasharkin, Co Antrim. Tensions had been high in the town after an earlier arson attack on the local Orange hall, which followed an attack on a Catholic-owned bar in Rasharkin.
On Friday night in Portadown, Co Armagh, 13 PSNI officers were injured, four of them requiring hospital treatment, during disturbances at Obin Street involving nationalists. Two men were arrested.
The same night there was also trouble in the New Lodge area of north Belfast when nationalists clashed with police. Two men were arrested. At Broadway in west Belfast police were called in to deal with trouble between loyalists and nationalists. Sinn Féin Assembly member Fra McCann said nationalist residents had "repelled a drunken unionist mob who attempted to attack homes in the area".
"If the attack on nationalist homes is evidence of what Orange Order leaders tell us is a new approach to the Twelfth then they have a long way to go to convince people that they are abandoning the usual sectarian behaviour which nationalists have to endure year on year during the marching season," he said.
While the Orange Order placed emphasis on the cultural and tourism elements of the Twelfth not all senior Orange figures were happy with this development.
The Order's grand chaplain, Rev Stephen Dickinson, rounded on First Minister Peter Robinson for referring to the tourist potential of the occasion at the demonstration in Ballyclare, Co Antrim.
Mr Dickinson criticised the DUP for entering into government with Sinn Féin and said Orangemen would not go "down the same route" as the DUP.
"This is not about cultural tourism. This is about Protestantism. This is about Britishness. It's not cultural tourism, Mr Robinson," he declared.
The DUP in a statement said Mr Dickinson was motivated "by his party political bias as a friend of Jim Allister", leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice that opposes powersharing with Sinn Féin.