Socialist Worker

Orangemen and Loyalists target Catholics

Issue No. 1705

Orangemen and Loyalists target Catholics

By Hazel Croft

NAKED SECTARIAN bigotry has been on open display at Drumcree in Portadown over the last week. Hardline Loyalist thugs want to destroy the peace and terrorise the whole Catholic population.

At Drumcree the Loyalist murder squad the Ulster Freedom Fighters openly waved banners and fired shots into the air. They reportedly threatened to "kill a Catholic a day" unless the Orangemen could march past the Catholic housing estates off the Garvaghy Road. They were joined by the Loyalist murderer Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair. He has boasted of murdering at least 20 Catholics. When he was jailed in 1995 for directing terrorism the judge described him as "nakedly sectarian".

A mural he commissioned on his estate celebrates five Loyalist massacres of innocent Catholics. They include the gunning down of five Catholics at a betting shop on the Lower Ormeau Road in 1992 and the murder of six Catholics at Greysteel in 1993. Many Orange leaders and Unionist politicians have tried to distance themselves from the Loyalist paramilitaries.

But the respectable face of the Orange Order has always been a thin cover for the whipping up of anti-Catholic hatred. The whole purpose of the Orange marches is to instil fear and intimidation into Catholics. They send the message that Protestants are "superior" and have the right to lord it over Catholics.

That is why Loyalist marches so often end in violent sprees against Catholics. At Drumcree the Orange bigots were singing: "Orange feet are made for walking/And that is what they'll do/So beware Garvaghy Road/For they'll walk all over you." One supporter of the Orange march even shouted:

"Burn the Fenians [derogatory word for Catholics]. That'll clear your way."


Violence is a sign of desperation

THE BIGOTRY at Drumcree this year is a sign of the desperation and crisis of the Orange Order, not of its strength. Last week Portadown Orange leader Harold Gracey called for hundreds of thousands of Orangemen to "get off their bellies" and out on the streets. But the main Drumcree march on Sunday attracted just 3,000. This is a far cry from the estimated 20,000 Orangemen that protested at Drumcree just three years ago.

And it is much fewer than the hundreds of thousands of Protestant workers the Orange Order could mobilise in the 1970s. There is a deep split in the Orange Order. Leading Orangeman Brian Kennaway recently resigned from the education committee of the Orange Order in protest at their refusal to speak to the parades commission.

He said, "If the Orange Order doesn't change its ways it will be finished in ten years time." He spoke of the haemorrhaging of members over the Drumcree march. Last week's events will have only deepened the crisis. A senior Orange Order source said, "The Orange Order has got itself into a deep hole, and instead of trying to get out it just seems to be going deeper."

And Portadown Orange leader Harold Gracey hit out at "traitors" like Trimble as much as Catholic politicians. Its leaders have increasingly sought to rally support during the "marching season". But in doing so they have attracted the most bigoted Loyalist elements. This minority is capable of terrible sectarian violence. But they do not speak for the overwhelming majority of Protestant workers. The majority of Protestant workers want peace and are repulsed by anti-Catholic sectarian violence.

It is no longer possible for the Orange Order to offer working class Protestants the prospect of better access to jobs and housing. This was always a con, as most Protestant workers continued to face worse pay, worse conditions and greater poverty than workers in Britain. The Orange Order is left offering empty symbols of Protestant "superiority" and sectarian violence against Catholics.

Last week the mainly Protestant workforce at the Shorts aircraft factory in Belfast were battling against their bosses, not against Catholics on the streets of Portadown or Belfast. Over 90 percent of the workforce took a half-day strike against a rotten three-year pay deal.


'We are scared for our lives'

LOYALISTS IN Portadown have whipped up a climate of hatred against Catholics over the last five years. That resulted in the murder of a young Catholic man, Robert Hamill, whose head was stamped on by a gang of up to 30 Loyalists in 1997. Two years ago the Drumcree march led to Loyalists burning to death the three young Quinn children because they had a Catholic mother.

This year Catholic residents are still in a state of fear. One resident, Susan O'Neill, said, "Portadown is a nasty, bigoted place. There are parts of the city centre that Catholics cannot go into." Over 40 Catholic or mixed families have already been burnt out of their homes.

In Belfast many Catholics and those in mixed families say they were "frightened for their lives" during the Loyalist rioting last week. Ulster Unionist and Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble distanced himself from the violence and condemned the Loyalist paramilitaries. He has staked his career on the peace agreement and in reaching some accommodation with Catholic politicians in the new Northern Ireland Assembly.

But although Trimble and the British government have condemned the violence, that does not rule out them also making some concessions to the hardliners. There was evidence of this when last week, in the middle of events at Drumcree, Mandelson made a major concession to the Unionists over the reform of the RUC police force. He agreed to incorporate the name "The Royal Ulster Constabulary" into the title of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland.


Protestant supremacy and bowler hats

THE ORANGE Order is an openly sectarian organisation. Catholics are forbidden to join. Any member who marries a Catholic, or who attends a Catholic church service, is automatically expelled. The Orange Order does not represent an ancient Protestant tradition. It was set up in 1795 with the encouragement of the British ruling class, who then ruled all of Ireland.

The order specifically stated it would "support king and constitution". It was devoted to opposing any rights for Catholics. The Reverend John Brown, in an official history of the Orange Order, explained the function of the Orange marches:

"On 12 July and other occasions the Orangeman marched with his lodge behind its flags and drums...to show his strength in the places where he thought it would do most good. Where you could 'walk' you were dominant and all other things followed."

The Orange Order was reinvented in the 1880s. All the symbols we see on Orange parades today-such as the bowler hats and the big lambeg drums-were first introduced then. The British ruling class and Protestant establishment deliberately tried to "play the Orange card" to try to defeat demands for limited "home rule" for Ireland.

An official report into sectarian violence in the 19th century described how marches on 12 July were used "to inculcate the feelings of Protestant supremacy over their Roman Catholic neighbours". The Orange marches are not only designed to whip up extreme anti-Catholic bigotry.

They also push the idea that all Protestants, rich or poor, have something in common. They aim to keep down dissenting Protestants, and to divide Protestant and Catholic workers.


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Sat 15 Jul 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1705
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