The 12th of July, a day of celebration for Unionists, Loyalists and Protestants, a day of dread for Nationalists, Republicans and Catholics, has become somewhat of a controversy in Northern Ireland since its creation, with millions spent on police to control riots and to repair the damage done in its quake. What’s so controversial about this particular date? The 12th is a celebration held every year originating from eighteenth century Ulster which commemorates the victory of Dutch Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. It has become a public holiday within Northern Ireland and involves marches and parades instigated by the Orange Order complete with flags, bunting and the aftermath of burnt bonfires after the 11th. There have been increasing tensions within the past few years however regarding the proceedings of these celebrations for the PUL community (Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist). So what are the issues and controversies surrounding ‘The Twelfth?’ and why should people care?

For one, the Nationalist/ Republican communities believe that these parades and marches are supremacist, triumphalist and mark the Orange Order as being a sectarian institute (because only Protestants can join and those wishing to join the institute must convert to protestantism). It is suggested that many of the parades held on the 12th pass off peacefully, it is only in ‘interface’ areas i.e., areas with both Catholics and Protestants, where the parades soon turn sour and in recent years, there have been violent outbursts by those on the Republican side and indeed, the Loyalist side too given an important decision made last year.

A bit of background knowledge, an independent parades commission was set up in 1998 under the Public Processions (NI) Act, in order to deal with both sides not being able to agree on a shared strategy in promoting both sides of the community via parades. However, controversy has spawned on the PUL side because as of last year, the Parades Commission made the decision to ban the Orange Order and Twelfth marches back up Ardoyne, a community where both Catholics and Protestants reside, thus preventing the Orange men and women from ‘going home.’ This is because of complaints not only from citizens (primarily on the Catholic side) relating to harassment and abuse from the marchers, but because of the violence created by extremist Republican youths on the Twelfth near the Ardoyne area.

There are several points to take away from this, the first is that the PUL community condemns this decision because it believes that the Parades Commission is illegitimate and that the decision was made only because of fear and violence of riots in Ardoyne i.e. proclaiming that Sinn Fein got into government through violence and now Republican Youths are getting their own way because of violence in preventing this long tradition. Secondly, regardless of your standing, it must be clear too much money has been wasted in order to police these protests / riots from getting out of hand. A rough estimate last year shows that it cost the PSNI (Police Service Northern Ireland) £3 million a month, around £300,000 was spent on one week to police the protests ever since the Orange Parade was stopped on the 12th of July.  Around 150 police units were sent out every night following for that week in order to make sure the protests went by smoothly although there has been irreversible damage done by both sides regarding this issue.

I believe that there are several issues that need to be addressed in this matter, the first of which is to try to reconcile with those causing this damage and encourage people within their local community to refrain from rioting, and this goes for both those provoking the Nationalist and Unionist side although the issue stretches far beyond the adolescent stage. In conjunction with this, we must not use primitive means of marking territory via flags, we must create a neutral environment that all can enjoy.

Secondly, politicians within our country should lead by example, if you use language such as ‘prejudice, erosion of culture, imperialists, sectarian,’ people will take account of this, especially people who are undereducated and those who hold their own values dear to them. This feeding the flame doesn’t help. There should be no moral crusade against Catholics or Protestants, Unionists or Nationalists, the past of this country has been tainted with crimes by some from all sides and we should respect the victims in these parades.

Thirdly, above all else, the Unionist and Nationalist communities need to communicate with one another to understand each other’s concerns. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are sick of this siege mentality between narrow-minds on all sides and would very much wish for everyone to work together to achieve a better future.

I have no interest in a ‘shared future,’ because it makes it seem as if we are going to throw a tantrum if some of the toys are taken out of the pram. I want a brighter, better and more equal future for all citizens in Northern Ireland, be they Unionist, Nationalist, Independent and everyone else regardless of who you are, where you stand and what you identify yourself as.  Only time will tell what will happen in the Twelfth Parade of 2014, but now is the time for our leaders to act and work upon relations between all sides of the community, otherwise, more money will be wasted and all those opportunity costs and alternatives of using this money will have gone down the drain.

References: – Ross Kemp’s ‘Extreme World: Northern Ireland.’ – BBC Costs of PSNI over Riots / Parades in Ardoyne – Vice Documentary on Belfast

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