From ............ National Catholic Reporter

July 26, 1996

page 28


As turmoil and tragedy resume in Northern Ireland, the stone-throwing teenagers may steal the TV spotlight but should not be allowed to hide the savage simplicity of what happened.

After years of war and killing in a centuries-old pattern, all sides seemed to have much more to gain than lose from a precarious cease-fire that was nevertheless becoming ever more fragile in a province where trust was at a low ebb.

Then out of the mists of time marched the members of the Orange Order. This Protestant group was founded back in 1795 for mutual protection and advancement, which automatically involved keeping everyone else, that is, Catholics, in their place. These are not the so-called extremists or fighters, but rather the local farmers, business and professional people.

[ Roman Catholics, of course, have never and would never discriminate against Protestants, Jews, and/or other non R.Catholics ....... JP ]

The stark, simple reason for the new conflict is that these Orangemen insisted on marching, not in their own areas or the main streets of Northern Ireland towns, but through specifically and exclusively Catholic streets. This annual July 12 ritual, celebrating the 1690 Protestant victory at the Battle of the Boyne,has been for decades, at least, a gesture of intimidation and domination, a way of "sticking it" to the Catholics even the marchers themselves offer no higher motive.

At first the local police, sensing serious trouble brewing, refused to allow the marchers down Catholic streets. The Orangemen rioted for a couple of days. The British then caved in to Orange threats and overruled the local authorities.

This craven capitulation by London is an abdication of its authority. That it follows an old pattern of siding with the Protestant majority merely reinforces in the eyes of the world the view that little has changed in Northern Ireland.

In El Salvador, it took the massacre of six Jesuits and two women to force international opinion to turn to the United Nations as impartial observer and negotiator of peace. The British, by contrast, despite year after year of violence, insist that Northern Ireland is their "domestic" problem. How big a catastrophe will it take to force them to hand over the process of peacemaking to a more impartial body?

In the Salvador case, there was no disarming of any of the parties involved until the end of the peace process. The Northern Ireland peace process faltered for a year and more while the weak and distracted John Major insisted that the Irish Republican Army first give up its arms. Meanwhile, the average Orangemen of Northern Ireland, law-abiding citizens though they may otherwise be, are armed to a degree that would make U.S. militias envious. The events of recent weeks have done little to encourage the IRA to hand over its weapons.

Meanwhile, reports come in of police on the rampage, especially against C.atholic rioters. Britain has long resisted calls for reform of the police force, which historically has been notoriously sectarian. Until the proportions of police on the force match the denominations and loyalties of the population, confidence will not be restored.

Yes, there are old hatreds and many conflicts of interest. But the world needs to know that this all started up again because average Protestants, most of whom are still in the Orange Order even in the supposedly more enliehtened and united Europe of the 1990s, insisted on their annual humiliation of Catholics in the towns and villages in which they live. And the British army tried to herd the Catholics into side streets, even into their own houses, until the triumphal parade had passed for another year.