Twelfth Riots: Orange “supremacy” and a Shared Future

Lord Alderdice made the point on Sunday, and I hope I am not simplifying too grossly, that the hint (from some Unionist political and civic leaders) that a future similar to the past of Orange supremacy is possible, is fundamentally incompatible with the Shared Future those leaders should actually be trying to build.

Personally, I am not sure “supremacy” is the most helpful word for the subsequent debate to have been based on, but I have commented before that both of the main political sides in Northern Ireland maintain the belief that they and they alone have a priority claim to this part of the world – for Nationalists, this is implicit within the notion of being “native” (something Unionists “aren’t”, thus hinting that Unionists are really “guests”); for Unionists this is implicit within the notion that Northern Ireland is specifically their country (and theirs alone, justified by the idea that the Republic of Ireland is Nationalists’ country).

Debates over parades are not about parades as much as about territory (and perceived control of territory). When it has to make a determination, the Parades Commission is thus charged effectively not with deciding merely who may walk on a road, but in fact with the more fundamental challenge of deciding whose road it is. Given that parading is a predominantly Protestant culture, and that demographic change predominantly favours Catholics, this results in a perception that banning a parade is essentially a declaration that a certain road and location has “changed hands”.

The old cliche is that what is now required is “leadership” – understood to mean leadership from Unionist political and civic leaders. This is unlikely, however. It is much easier to get votes by playing to a perceived sense of injustice than it is to explain to people (and potential voters) that reality has moved on.

Yet this is incredibly stupid. By intertwining culture and demographics, Unionist leaders are instantly playing a game Unionists will only lose more convincingly each year as time goes by. It is about time other Unionists noticed that parading is not a game they are ever going to win – and stopped placing their faith in “leaders” who suggest otherwise.

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