Paul McFadden - The Past as Prologue

The scene at the Bogisde on Monday night
The scene at the Bogisde on Monday night

There is a famous fable, whose origins are unknown, which speaks to us about people’s nature. A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river. The frog – wary of the scorpion’s reputation and afraid of being stung – refuses, but the scorpion points out that if he was to sting the frog they would both be drowned. The frog relents and sets off across the river with the scorpion on his back. Half way across the river the scorpion stings him. As they both begin sinking below the water, the frog asks the scorpion, ‘Why?’ The scorpion replies, ‘It’s in my nature.’

There is a monotonous but depressing predictability about the violence which attends the marching season. This past fortnight local scorpions have been busy, going where they’re not wanted, wrecking their own neighbourhoods and terrifying communities in places as far apart as Newry and Strabane. Tuesday – the Twelfth’s – most serious rioting happened in Ardoyne, in North Belfast, and coincided with the death of a 48 year old local woman; as Holy Cross priest, Father Gary Donegan remarked, ‘Life goes on, tragedy goes on.’

Derry did not escape unscathed: a van and a car were hijacked and set alight in the Bogside, yards away from pensioners’ homes. The PSNI say children younger than ten were involved in the trouble there.

George Orwell observed that, ‘The English are not happy unless they are miserable, the Irish are not at peace unless they are at war, and the Scots are not at home unless they are abroad.’ It is wrong to generalise about nationalities and I would suggest Orwell was particularly wide of the mark in his view of the Irish. Most of us want this pathetic, self-defeating violence to disappear, forever, yet it keeps recurring.

The funereal North Belfast MP, Nigel Dodds – a man not normally renowned for rib-ticklers – suggested that this week’s disturbances should not be allowed to overshadow “progress” on the parades issue. Progress? He is joking, surely?

This week’s rioting has been on a lower scale than in previous years, and the disruption less pervasive, but to use the word ‘progress’ in relation to so toxic an issue is an affront. The centuries old problem of Orange parades hasn’t gone away. Moreover, each marching season brings with it the potential for mayhem – mayhem which actually does jeopardise the delicate political progress which has occurred in the North in the last decade.

As the bowler-hatted marchers insist on parading where they are not welcome, and the local ten year olds protest the infringement of their human rights, the rest of us – like the Council cleansing staff on Fahan Street on Wednesday – are left to pick up the pieces. Surely the time has come to force the Orange Order to engage meaningfully with the Parades Commission or else face a moratorium on all such marches.

If we don’t grasp the nettle, July will always pose us problems. It’s in our nature.

Read more from Paul Mcfadden in Friday’s Journal