Putting the Blame Where it Lies
A month has now passed since the events in Ardoyne on July 12. Much has been said and penned in that time, the majority of it insinuation, fabrication and outright condemnation of the residents of Ardoyne and those who came to their aid.
In an all too familiar pattern, we have witnessed how a vulnerable and besieged nationalist community find the guns and fingers pointed inwards, at them, and not outwards at the real perpetrators. It is imperative that we collectively cut through the hype, innuendo and refocus on the core issues - sectarian parades and the right to protest.
In line with the European Convention, every man, woman and child has a right to live free from sectarian harassrnent. These were the rights being claimed by residents of Ardoyne. Everyone also has a fundamental right to engage in peaceful protest in defence of these rights. These were the rights being claimed by residents of Ardoyne.
Let us be clear, these are rights - not privileges and, as such, they are not subject to negotiation nor is there a mandate in the land that may impinge upon them. This is the context in which activists found themselves in Ardoyne, at the invitation of residents. Those activists found themselves where they have always been.
Irish republicans have a proud tradition of supporting beleaguered communities at their request. From the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads, to Ballinaboy in County Mayo, the activists that comprise éirígí are part of this tradition.
Thus, when faced with a peaceful sit-down protest by Ardoyne residents in defence of their fundamental rights on one hand and the encroaching of those that would extinguish those rights in the form of heavily armed and PSNl members on the other, there was only ever going to be one result. It was at this point that a small number of activists sat down and linked arms with the residents.
The imagery of peaceful protesters being manhandled off the Ardoyne Road and the moral force of their argument wasn’t lost amongst the riots that ensued, it was buried. It was intentionally buried by those in the media and political institutions who have no interest in showing a society where the rights of nationalists come second to unionist demands. It was intentionally buried by those in the media and political institutions who have no interest in showing a society where peaceful protesters are punched, kicked and batoned by state forces in their own communities.
The people who brought violence to Ardoyne on July 12 were the PSNI. It was they who attacked peaceful protesters, besieged a community and assaulted onlookers. The end result of this has always been, and more than likely will always be, wide-scale rioting.
Without a doubt there were those amongst the rioters who were reacting to assaults on their community by British state forces. Without a doubt there were those amongst the rioters who cared little for their community and certainly cared little for the protesters that they showered with bricks, bottles and, in at least one instance, a petrol bomb. These are issues that need to be addressed locally.
It would appear that there is a growing belief in our communities that the much promoted channels to stopping sectarian parades aren’t working. The lobbying, rational debate, passive protests and appeals for goodwill have failed to halt sectarian parades. They have failed to stop sectarian orders from demanding them. They have failed to stop the six county Parades Commission from allowing them.They have failed to stop the PSNI from forcing them through at all costs, both physical and financial.
Thus, we must re-address the situation. We must refocus on the core issue. We must stop these sectarian parades once and for all. If we fail in this task then we will condemn ourselves to revisiting this debate year upon year.