Chances of a political solution fade with every rock thrown

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 July, 1996, 12:00am

The wave of violence and bombings, which were the curse of Northern Ireland for 25 years, once again have the province teetering on the brink of mayhem.

The chances of a political settlement in the internecine conflict are disappearing with every rock thrown at the police and every taunt thrown from each side.

Yet again, through the insistence of Unionist Orangemen that they have the right to march where they have marched throughout history, it has shown the historical legacy of divided factions has not lessened during the months of relative peace.

But the decision by Royal Ulster Constabulary Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley to let Orangemen march through a Catholic area has brought a police force which was regaining the confidence of the Catholic nationalist population into disrepute once more.

Yesterday there were constant claims that the police had given in to the mob rule of the Unionist Orangemen, that there was one law for them as Protestants and one for the Catholics.

Social and Democratic Labour Party MP Dr Joe Hendron summed up the words of the nationalist community, saying there was 'massive anger' at the police's decision to go back on their earlier promise to keep the Orangemen out of Catholic areas.

The Unionists have traditionally maintained they are the party of law and order in the province, yet for four days this week, at the start of the 'Marching Season', they threw such niceties to the wind.

It was a similar march by the Orangemen in Londonderry in 1969 which first brought troops onto the streets of Northern Ireland.

To outsiders, disputes about the routes of traditional marches must look ludicrous. The reality is that there have been such disputes for more than a century as each side refuses to compromise.

What also happened at Drumcree this week was that the official Unionist politicians, usually the voice of moderation on the Unionist side, joined the baying crowds of marchers. Polarisation rather than moderation became the order of the day.

Equally dangerously, the perceived threats to nationalist areas will only reinforce the arguments of the IRA that it must still exist, with arms intact, to defend the nationalist population.

In Dublin, Irish opposition leader Bertie Ahern said there was disappointment throughout Ireland.

'The Orangemen fought the law, and the law lost. What we try to teach our children, that might isn't right, sounds hollow today.'