Drumcree explodes myth that NI peace is at hand

What is most depressing about the Drumcree stand-off is how a penny candle issue has been blown into an inferno.

What is most depressing about the Drumcree stand-off is how a penny candle issue has been blown into an inferno.

Whichever perspective this issue is viewed from there is nothing fundamental at stake and yet the future of what is known as the peace process has been put at risk.

The 15-minute passage of the Orange parade through Garvaghy Road would not have inflicted any grave injustice or disrespect on the Catholic residents of that area - and it would have been just 15 minutes had the Garvaghy Road residents not made an issue of it.

Equally, no grave compromise of liberty is involved by the requirement of the Orange marchers to return from Drumcree church the way they came.


If compromise over such trivialities is elusive, how then will it be possible to reach compromise over the nature of the Northern Ireland state?

Indeed, it has been the scorn that the unionist leader, David Trimble, has shown for compromise that is at the heart of the impasse.

Last year, a compromise had been reached between the Garvaghy Road residents and the Orange marchers, which involved the marchers passing silently through silent lines of nationalist protesters. But in the immediate aftermath of that compromise, David Trimble danced down the centre of Portadown hand in hand with Ian Paisley and exulted: "There was no compromise. We have come down the traditional route in normal fashion with our flags flying ... We were glad to be down the traditional route and we expect to be again."

That spectacle and reaction has made compromise this time around far more difficult.

Any expectation that the responsibility of leadership of the Unionist Party would evoke a less reckless response from David Trimble has been disappointed.

It was he who called on Sunday for members of the Orange Order to "muster" in Portadown in solidarity with their Drumcree brethren and it has been this "mustering" that has led to the confrontation and the escalation of the conflict in several other parts of Northern Ireland.

Far from seeking de-escalation and compromise, the other unionist leader, Ian Paisley, has hyped the issue into apocryphal dimensions. On Sunday night, he said: "This is not just the siege of Drumcree, it is the siege of the whole province and the siege of the United Kingdom.

He said they should be prepared to "fight" for their religious faith which was "worth dying for". The implication was that the Protestant faith was at stake at Drumcree.

AT the time of writing (Tuesday afternoon), it is difficult to see how this impasse can end without grave escalation, but whatever the outcome, it highlights the extent to which conflict resolution has not even begun in Northern Ireland.

It is astonishing that over the last year, responsible citizens in Portadown did not try to resolve the conflict over this annual Orange march. It seems some efforts were made by Garvaghy Road residents but the local Orange lodge did not respond to letters, partly on the grounds that they did not wish to deal with the spokesperson for the residents who has a conviction for a terrorist offence.

But was it sensible for either side to leave it at that?

Would it not have been possible for a public meeting to have been arranged in Portadown involving the residents of Garvaghy Road and members of the Drumcree Orange lodge at which the Orange lodge members would have explained why marching down this road was important to them and the residents would have explained why it was objectionable to them?

Would it not have been possible in the last year to have removed some of the nationalist incomprehension of the Orange Order's identification of a right to march with civil and religious liberties?

Would it not have been possible also to have removed some of the unionist incomprehension of nationalist objections to Orange marches?

Is it inconceivable that a compromise along the lines of last year's could have been arranged, perhaps on this occasion with the marchers walking silently through Garvaghy Road in the absence of any nationalist protest?

Had John Hume been the local MP, it is certain he would have attempted to resolve that impasse over the past year. Regrettably, the local MP is David Trimble who, as he proclaimed triumphally a year ago, is not interested in compromise.

But are there not others in Portadown who could have taken the initiative. What were the local clergy doing over the last year, what were the business associations and trade unions doing?

What was the local media doing to explain one side to the other?

WHETHER there are to be all-party talks or not, there is not now the basis for a settlement to the Northern Ireland problem and the stand-off at Drumcree illustrates that. Even if the politicians were themselves committed to the search for a settlement and Messrs Trimble, Paisley and McCartney are not - they would be unlikely to carry their parties with them in the absence of a culture of reconciliation and compromise generally.

It is almost a cliche to observe that a fundamental part of the Northern Ireland problem is the incomprehension by each of the communities of the other. Unionists do not begin to understand the genuine reasons for nationalist alienation from the Northern state. Nationalists do not begin to understand the genuine apprehensions that unionists have at the prospect of any drift towards a united Ireland.

One might have expected, for instance, one or both of the "public service" broadcasting stations on the island to have provided a means of bridging this mutual incomprehension. But in the absence of that, could not some other mechanism have been created that would have permitted the communities to talk to one another about their fears, grief, anger and aspirations?

In the absence of such, relatively minor issues such as Drumcree will continue to envelop Northern Ireland in widespread conflict.


I want to apologise for misunderstandings that have arisen from a comment I made in an article on June 28th about Veronica Guerin's murder. I wrote that it was probable her murder was unrelated to anything she had written or was about to write. I should have added that almost certainly her death was directly related to her work as a journalist.

I very much regret any ambiguity that may have arisen from what I wrote.