July 9, 1998
With the new Northern Ireland Assembly less than a month old, it is facing a rising tide of sectarian violence. Protestant extremists are angry over a decision to ban a march through Catholic areas. Following a background report on the recent violence, two experts discuss the situation.
MARGARET WARNER: For more now we turn to Paul Arthur, a professor of politics at the University of Ulster, one of Northern Ireland's two universities. He's spending the year in Washington as a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. And James Mates, Washington bureau chief of the London-based Independent Television News. He covered events in Northern Ireland from 1984 to 1987. Welcome both.
|The Parades through Portadown: "It's gotten worse and worse every time. And it's now become symbolic."|
Mr. Arthur, why are we seeing this flare-up now after months of real progress on the peace front?
PAUL ARTHUR, University of Ulster: Well, you have to remember this is an annual phenomenon. There is what is known as the marching season, when the Orange Order have up to 3,000 marches over a short summer season. So it has been going on for centuries, as your news clipping showed. And the fact that it's going on simply means it proceeds from previous year all the way back to the 1800's. But the significance of what's happening now is simply because we've had a peace agreement and this has got the potential to wreck peace agreement. And that gives it another dynamic.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think we're seeing this flare-up?
JAMES MATES, Independent Television News: I think it's exactly as Paul says. Partly, the unbreakable cycle, it seems, in Northern Ireland politics. A lot of what's been going on in terms of the peace agreement and the referendum and the new assembly is aimed at trying to break that cycle, but it hasn't broken this one. This comes round every year. Every year you can write it in your calendar—there's going to be trouble in July and early August, because of the Orange parades and because of Catholic opposition to them.
MARGARET WARNER: Why are parades—you mentioned that the Orangemen hold some 3,000 a summer—why are they such a big deal in Northern Ireland and such a big deal politically?
PAUL ARTHUR: I think parades are a way of staking out your territory. Here are a people here—the majority of the population that behave as if they're a minority, because on the island of Ireland they are a minority and have never trusted the British government. Parades are a way of saying this is our territory, this is the only way we can assert ourselves.
MARGARET WARNER: And why this particular parade, because a lot of them do go on peacefully, relatively peacefully, why did this particular one become such a flashpoint?
JAMES MATES: It's been a flashpoint really since 1985, and it's gotten worse and worse every time. And it's now become symbolic. Many of these parades have been re-routed or even canceled. There has been compromise on both sides over other parades. But this is one of the ones on which—which has taken on a symbolic importance because of the battles that have been fought—they're literally pitched battles between Orangemen not allowed to go through and policemen and then when the police tried to force them through, it did force them through between the Catholics—residents and the police, we've seen horrendous scenes in the past. Both sides have absolutely staked the parade battle drum—we saw it coming, because we know it's happened in previous years.
|A split within the Protestant community.|
MARGARET WARNER: You said, Mr. Arthur, that you thought this could really derail the peace agreement. How so? I mean, give us a brief bad scenario.
PAUL ARTHUR: Well, the bad scenario is that as a result of this parade being blocked Orangemen in other parts of Northern Ireland are already on the streets. They're stretching security forces to their limits. So that that creates a climate of violence which just takes on a life of its own. Once that happens, those who happen to support the peace agreement, they begin to have second thoughts about it. For example, in your news footage a number of people I could see are members of David Trimble's own party.
MARGARET WARNER: David Trimble being—
PAUL ARTHUR: Being the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and being the first minister in this new peace agreement assembly. So he has even members of his own party, elected members of parliament of his own party opposed to this, and they carry a good degree of moral authority. Once that spreads throughout a community, people may begin to have second thoughts. And against that I think that the peace agreement has set up a new political architecture which it will be very difficult to knock down. In the short term, yes, it might succeed in causing a lot of damage, but in the long-term I think we're into a period of sustained peace once we get over this marching season.
MARGARET WARNER: How big do you see the threat here?
JAMES MATES: As Paul said, it's a very real threat, and I think one of the reasons that it can undermine things is how David Trimble's authority will come out of this. Remember what he's achieved in the last year. He's managed to sign the agreement against the opposition.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me interrupt you a minute. Explain a little bit about his background just that he came from the different side of things on the Protestant camp. I mean, he used to be quite militant, did he not?
JAMES MATES: Absolutely. And one of the ways that he managed to take Unionists with him—Unionism with him through the referendum and through these elections is by standing at the head of the marches at Drumcree—in previous years with his orange sash on to convince those of his own supporters that he is a man who is not about to sell out the union even if he is trying to persuade them to make the compromises, to make peace possible. Now, that puts him now in a very difficult position. He is the First Minister of Northern Ireland. On the other hand, his own constituency is not likely to stand behind him, as it would have done, if he compromised or backing down or Drumcree, which is where lots of the authority of his leadership came from in the first place.
|Do the Orangemen represent the Protestant community?|
MARGARET WARNER: But has this really epitomized the split that existed in the Protestant community even over the vote?
PAUL ARTHUR: I think it does precisely that. We have to remember that Protestantism, unlike Catholicism, isn't monolithic. There are several different fragments. And as you said, Margaret, David Trimble has moved from one tendency to another, and people like certainties. They don't like the leaders to move in a place like Northern Ireland, and that makes his life—political life very, very precarious at the moment. What he has done is he showed a huge amount of moral courage. He's shown vision inside a community which hasn't shown much vision in the past. And that has been, for many of them, a bridge too far, and they're not prepared to go along with them on that.
MARGARET WARNER: Pick up on this split in the Protestant community. How representative would you say the Orangemen are in what they're doing of the Protestant community in the North?
JAMES MATES: I wouldn't have said they were unrepresentative in their views. They backed the peace agreement. The Protestant community, of course, support it, a majority of them supported the peace deal, but didn't get much over the 50 percent. So many members of David Trimble's own party and the official Unionists were not prepared to go along with the agreement, and, of course, the more radical party, the Democratic Unionists, were utterly opposed to it. So the Protestant community overall is split, but the Orangemen, I would not have said, and Paul may disagree with me on this, I would not have said are out of step with the Protestant community in general in their demand to be able to march down the Gavaghy Road.
PAUL ARTHUR: It's a highly emotional thing. I mean, as I said, they—
MARGARET WARNER: You could support the peace agreement, as some of these Orangemen did, and still believe you have the right to march down the—
PAUL ARTHUR: Absolutely. Absolutely. What you have to remember is, in fact, that a decision to oppose the agreement was taken by the leadership of the Orange Order. The Orange Order has 80,000 members. We don't know absolutely because people would have voted. Many of them would have voted against it. They are a microcosm of the white Protestant community, and just as the whiter Protestant community split, so are they.
|"The Catholic community has been pretty quiet because it's to their advantage that the damage is being done by the so-called Loyalists."|
MARGARET WARNER: And what about the Catholic side now? They've been pretty quiet. Is that because right now the status quo is essentially favoring them.
PAUL ARTHUR: The Catholic community has been pretty quiet because it's to their advantage that the damage is being done by the so-called Loyalists, those who seem to be loyal to the crown, who are attacking the forces of law and order of the crown. They can afford to sit back and they believe if the peace agreement unwinds, they won't be held responsible. It will be the Protestants. They also know that in Tony Blair there is a prime minister with a huge majority who is probably here for the next eight or ten years in power, and they know that he will not be pleased with the actions of Orangemen, and he will become more sympathetic to their particular stance.
JAMES MATES: It's going to be very interesting to see what happens, picking up on the point about the Catholic community, what happens on Monday, when, of course, the parades commission, which banned this march down the Gavaghy Road has allowed a march through a Catholic area in Belfast, and now they're fighting that in the court. We'll expect a decision on that tomorrow, but if the courts give that march the go-ahead, it'll be very interesting to see whether the—why the Catholic community is prepared, themselves, to accept a parades commission decision.
|"The politics of Northern Ireland as the politics of the last atrocity."|
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the voters of Northern Ireland just six weeks ago elected this new assembly. Seventy percent or so are moderate centrists drawn from both communities. Do they have any power here, any sway, any authority, any ability to control this, or handle this situation?
JAMES MATES: I think in terms of an overall breakdown of the whole peace process, yes, they have. The weight of opinion is such, I suspect, that however bad things get in the next few weeks and—don't forget—things were just as bad last year—and yet within months people were still talking and still doing bills and still passing referenda. I suspect at this stage the weight of opinion in favor of peace and opposed to letting this whole thing collapsed will be strong enough, I hope, to see it through.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think—
PAUL ARTHUR: I would agree absolutely with that. As I say, short-term, the prospects don't look very good. Let's get over the marching season, and I do believe that there is a drive there on the ground by ordinary people to say we want peace, and we're going to insist that our political leaders push towards peace. 72 percent of us voted for peace; we voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for a peace agreement. Admittedly, the Protestant community was much more divided, but still there's a great majority inside Northern Ireland.
MARGARET WARNER: But you said let this marching season end this summer season, but can this—I mean, we saw the kind of violence—no one's died yet—but can that just continue for the next seven or eight weeks and sort of just frozen like this, without spinning out of control?
PAUL ARTHUR: Someone once described the politics of Northern Ireland as the politics of the last atrocity. And so as a secretary of state once said, that there was an acceptable level of violence. Cynically, I think that that's what politicians do believe, that there is an acceptable level of violence, and if you can keep it at that level, that's a victory of some sort.
JAMES MATES: I agree with that. I think one of the difficulties, of course, is the violence between the police and the Loyalists. The Protestant community is always slightly different than between the police and the Catholic community because it is an almost entirely Protestant force that has to live amongst Protestants, and, therefore, reprisals against a policeman and their families. They know who they are. They know where they live, and they're living right amongst them. So it's always rather more dangerous if Protestants and police are fighting from that point of view. But, as Paul says, it's containable at the moment, and is by a very long way not the worst that's been seen there.
MARGARET WARNER: And, briefly, do you think Tony Blair can have an impact here?
JAMES MATES: Certainly. He put his personal authority behind this from the very beginning. He went there and sat through the talks to drive it personally. And I think the reason he's meeting Orangemen today is to do the same thing.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think he can have an influence?
PAUL ARTHUR: I think he can have. I think he is having an influence over it. I think matters could have been much worse, and, at the very least, people realize he's around for a long time, they're going to have to deal with him, so they may try and get him on their side. And to get him on their side, they have to show restraint.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you both very much.