March to what exactly?

17 Jul
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“Orange March”
image © 2013 Robert J.E. Simpson. All Rights Reserved

I try and avoid discussing my perceived political background and my personal religious and political beliefs in public. Why? Well, a) because they’re rather personal, and b) because I live in Northern Ireland, a country which has a terrible reputation when it comes to tolerance. Have you seen the news during the last few months? We went from that insane violence surrounding the flag issue in December and following (ruining business for many of the little players), and then in the last week, the riots have started again allegedly because some folk were told they couldn’t host a parade on the periphery of a sensitive community.

I’m not stupid, I’m well aware that both sides of this supposed debate are perfectly adept at playing dirty, winding each other up, insisting on respective rights while completely negating those of the other. Not even the presence of Ross Kemp and his documentary crew were able to diminish tensions last Friday.

Considering that the negotiations didn’t start until very late in the day, I personally thought the Parades Commission made a perfectly sensible compromise in agreeing that the Orange Order could march along the route (Ardoyne/Crumlin Road area of Belfast) in the morning, but would not be allowed to do the same coming home. I also thought that the nationalist residents made the right voices when they said, in light of this, they would be calling off their planned counter-demonstrations. That m’dears is compromise.

Hatred Of Orange Cult

“Hatred Of Orange Cult” – Orange Order parade, Dublin Road
image © 2013 Robert J.E. Simpson. All Rights Reserved

I also think its pretty shitty when the Orange Order stands back while one of the bands marching under its banner stops outside a Roman Catholic church (St. Patricks – where there has been trouble before), and plays the Sash (a song, played to a traditional tune, which is perceived by many Nationalists and Catholics as deeply sectarian and thus offensive) in a triumphant manner, when the compromise instructed by the Parades Commission was to play only hymns (which as universal Christian songs are offensive to neither side). But then we all know that the problem here isn’t really about religion, it is simply intolerance. Much better was those bands who instigated a gap either side of the church when the march got held up, allowing the bands to respect the space.

I also find it somewhat sad that a tune which originates in a song about sadness in failing to bring two communities together (Scots and Irish as Irish Molly O – http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/view/image/7421/0) has become a symbol for emphasizing divide.

Let me avoid for now, getting into the flag debate too deeply, but I do find the idea of burning flags of the other community/nation on bonfires rather repulsive. It isn’t just disrespecting the Irish community when you do that, dear protestant brethren, it is also disrespecting this entire island and our ancestors. Need I remind you that the green is meant to represent the catholic population, the orange represents the protestants, and the white the hope for peace between the two. Unionists should embrace the tricolour alongside the UK flag… after all, you are at least represented on it, which is more than can be said about some of the alternatives.

To lay my cards on the table – I myself am from a largely protestant/unionist background. However, I spent a good deal of time in my youth in cross-community work, and with friends and work experience on all sides of the community (North and South), I’m far too liberal to be a bigot. Should I be ashamed of my ‘heritage’? I’m not sure – but I’m certainly ashamed of some of those who claim to represent me and who influence others’ perception of me.

I think there’s a place for the Hibernians AND the Orange Order in our society, but they need radical overhauling if they want to be accepted by us all. The PR around these organisations is a disaster. You CAN be pro-protestant or pro-catholic WITHOUT being sectarian – they should learn how to do that.

Unfortunately there are always going to be idiots – and they are probably the minority – who make things very complicated and unpleasant for the rest of us. But whatever I feel personally, nothing will change without proper dialogue and discussion with ground members.

I spent several days this last couple of weeks photographing various scenes relating to the Orange Order demonstrations. Unlit bonfires, bonfires, parades, riot squads, flags, debris… trying always to be an objective observer, and yet looking for images which intrigues or speaks in its own right.

There are some who will see the publication of these images as being a pro-Orange Order move. However I hope that the images of drunkeness, police forces, and loyalist troublemakers go some way to establishing my near-neutral stance.  For balance, I will have to photograph a companion set from a Hibernian march, or even some of the St Patrick’s day parades (which do get out of hand).

The images are available on my Flickr profile, with a few more to follow.

A specific album for the 11th night is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/avalard/sets/72157634603919194/

and from the 12th July parades in Belfast: http://www.flickr.com/photos/avalard/sets/72157634616143544/

In closing, an addendum… The Orange Order isn’t just a protestant organisation, it is a (supposedly) Christian one. With Christians on both sides (Roman Catholics and Protestants), perhaps they should listen more closely to the teachings of Christ – didn’t Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek? Does violence and taunting really sit comfortably alongside that?

Altercation II

Altercation II. (Loyalists come face to face with the riot squad near Belfast City Hall).
image © 2013 Robert J.E. Simpson. All Rights Reserved

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