The Importance of the Marching Season to the Peace Process

The Importance of the Marching Season to the Peace Process

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The Importance of the Marching Season to the Peace Process

Every July, Orange Order marches take place to commemorate the Battle
of The Boyne of 1690. Since the beginning of ‘The Troubles’ in 1969,
the sectarian divide, essentially in the geographical areas of
Northern Ireland, has become synonymous with the hopes and fears of
the two ideologies yet who still remain poles apart. Parades and
marches by the respective sides, reinforce this confrontation. The
marches have often been a flashpoint for violence and have been a
continual cause of tension between the unionists and the nationalists.
To accommodate sensitivities and to reduce tension, recently some
marches have been re-routed in order to stop the unionists marching
through nationalist areas. Much of this work has been successful and
tensions have been reduced. However in other areas, such as Drumcree
and the approach through the Garvachy Road, the loyalists have
insisted that they will not accept re-routing, and as with many things
in Northern Ireland this has become a symbol of Orange defiance and
example of where to draw the line.

Originally the marches contained loyal Protestants who for a variety
of reasons wished to march annually to raise the profile of their
loyalty, culture and cause. The majority of these parades passed off
peacefully and majority of who took part did not seek to incite
violence. The 2004 marches ended peacefully and it was reported “so
long as the rest of the summer passes off without serious violence,
officials in London and Dublin are hopeful that they can create a
positive atmosphere before fresh political talks in September.”
However in 2005 the marches were used as a rallying call for
extremists such as Johnny “mad dog” Adair whose use of violence
highlights the frustration of the hardliners. Of course people such
as this are only the tools used by more sinister forces such as the
Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), Red Hand Commandos and other such
Para-militaries, who probably use violent means to destabilise the
peace process.

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The 2005 marching season was described as the worst
since 1970.

In 2005, instead of agreeing with another route Unionists insisted in
marching down Garvachy Road, with the excuse that it is part of their
tradition but probably with the more sinister reason to cause tension
and violence in order to raise the profile of their stance. Many
routes have been changed since the violent past, making the unionists
march mainly down non-Catholic areas and in 2005,this year’s marching
season was postponed from July to September because of rerouting.
Angered unionists see this as unfair and that they should be allowed
to keep their tradition.

Finally the marches are seen as a ‘symbol of tension between the two
communities.’ This means that the very fact that these marches still
go ahead shows the animosity between the Protestants and Catholics.
The marches roots lie in celebrating Protestant heroism, as the
marches originally celebrated the Battle of the Boyne, where 60,000
people lost their lives on the first day. The marches are also used to
celebrate Protestant victories over the Catholics-such as Oliver
Cromwell’s massacres of Drogheda and Wexford. This means that the
marches are perpetuating the division between the two sides and the
suppression of the Catholics. In essence the marches contradict the
drive for peace.

In conclusion the marching season will play an important part in the
peace process only if the provocation can be reduced. If every year
the orange marches cause violence the peace process will be severely
hindered. Unless there is a compromise, the marches will always be
used as a tool for extremists. If the extremists gain the upper hand,
potentially the Good Friday agreement will fail and ten years of
progress will be lost. I feel that the main reason the marches effect
the peace process is the symbolism that is attached to them by both
sides. The danger is that the marches are used as a vehicle by the
extremists who don’t want peace and pursue their own political
purposes. Obviously peace cannot occur at the same time as violence.
If the marches continue to be led by extremists, then true peace won’t
be achieved. On the other hand if the marches return to the hands of
the moderates they could be used as a vehicle for compromise,
discussion and celebration.
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