Today marks the 327th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in County Meath, Ireland. The forces of the deposed and Catholic King James II of England were defeated by those of the Protestant Dutch Prince William of Orange, who with his wife Mary II had acceded to the crowns of England and Scotland.
It’s a vaguely interesting bit of history, but does anyone care enough to hold hundreds of parades? Thousands of Orange Order men and women in Ireland, Scotland and around the world do, and today is their day to march to celebrate the event. Briefly, the Orange Order is pro-Protestant, pro-union with Britain, quite conservative, and to quote their pledge, they “…oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome and other Non-Reformed faiths…”
In the past, the July 12th parades marched through Catholic neighborhoods, inciting violence between marchers and residents. Today they went through a Catholic neighborhood in the north of Belfast with little attention from the residents and no violence, thanks to ongoing community work on both sides and the 1998 Belfast Peace Agreement.
However, there were too many bonfires burning effigies of the late Martin McGuinness in a mock coffin (an Irish Republican Army officer in his youth, McGuinness became a disciple of Nelson Mandela, a friend of former foe the Rev. Ian Paisley, the founder of the Democratic Unionist Party, and like Paisley, a peacemaker late in life),the Tricolour flag of the Republic of Ireland, and other representations of Republicanism, but there was no violence reported against a living person.
There’s a new element to this story now, and that’s the 1 billion pound bribe UK Prime Minister Teresa May and her Conservative/Tory Party gave to the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which won less than 1% of the recent UK election to the Westminster Parliament, but won the most seats in the Northern Irish Parliament, Stormont. The DUP, like the Orange Order, is pro-Union with Britain, pro-Protestantism and very conservative, but the DUP also is anti-climate change, anti-abortion, anti-the 1998 Peace Agreement and anti-same sex marriage (which the Orange Order most likely is as well), the latter in line with the lack of legality and recognition of same sex marriage in Northern Ireland today.
May bribed the DUP to vote with the Tories in Westminster after she called a snap election last month to consolidate her base, only to end up hanging from a trapeze without a net (see my Brexit-themed posts of June 6 and June 14). The 2017 Tory manifesto (a depressing attack on the elderly, small children and their free lunches, immigrants and the National Health Service) does not address climate change at all, and since same-sex marriage is finally legal in Britain, it’s thankfully moot. Many Tories are appalled and exasperated with May’s disastrous strategies and this partnership with the retrograde DUP. British left-wing voters are not happy with the extra funding given to Northern Irish hospitals, while hospitals in the rest of the UK, already under considerable stress, will receive less.
The DUP may be viewed as heroes to some in Northern Ireland after their canny negotiation (should they negotiate Brexit for May?), they certainly hold the purse strings, and since they won Stormont last month, they hold the cards. Aligned as they are with the Orange Order, July 12th, 2018 may not be as peaceful as today was. A parade went through a Catholic neighborhood in North Belfast today, not around it, and there were bonfires all over Northern Ireland now being investigated as hate crimes. How far will the Orange Order push to return to the violence of the past, and how far will the DUP push back, and how can Teresa May and her government push at all, should the return to sectarian violence see the light of day? All parties should sit down and read the Belfast Peace Agreement to understand the benefits to keeping the fragile peace it wrought, and if they burn it up, the penalties to trade, the economies and the quality of life in each country that will result.