Colum Eastwood: Apprentice Boys parades an example of how British tradition can be protected in united Ireland

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Colum Eastwood has said the annual Apprentice Boys parades in Derry are an example of how the British tradition can be ‘protected, enhanced and looked after’ in a united Ireland.

Mr. Eastwood remembered criticising the parades as a teenager only to be challenged by John Hume.

“Coming from where I come from—in Derry, where since 1973 when the new Derry council was formed after the civil rights movement, a year after Bloody Sunday, we were insisting when we had nearly all the seats on doing power sharing—we look around the Guildhall in Derry, and we have all the symbolism of Unionism and Britishness still there,” he told the NI Affairs Committee.

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"We did not strip it away. We were determined that that would stay, because we understand. In the same vein, that is why we insisted that the Apprentice Boys could march around the city centre.

The Apprentice Boys parading on the Derry Walls.The Apprentice Boys parading on the Derry Walls.
The Apprentice Boys parading on the Derry Walls.

"That is not popular sometimes, but it is because we understand. When I stood as a 17-year-old at the top of Shipquay Street, with John Hume, watching the Apprentice Boys go past—and some of those bands aren’t very nice...I brought my two daughters up last year...and they were five and seven at that stage. We stood and we watched the bands and a guy gestures—a guy goes like that to me—and Maya, my youngest, said, ‘What’s that about, Daddy?’ I said, ‘That’s just how they say hello.’

“So I was standing with John Hume at 17 years old and I was doing the usual angry thing—you know: ‘Why are they able to just close down the whole town? Listen to some of those chants and songs, and the way they’re looking at us.’ And John said, ‘Are you serious?’ I said, ‘I am serious.’ He said, ‘Well, if you believe in a united Ireland, and you look at the demographics of Derry, how can we have a united Ireland if we can’t even accommodate letting these people march around this town twice a year?’ And that stuck with me forever.”

The SDLP leader said this would be a key concern during the ongoing debate around constitutional change.

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“We’re not pretending when we say that. We are deadly serious that the British tradition—the Unionist tradition—on the island of Ireland in a constitutionally changed Ireland will be, if I have anything to do with it, protected, enhanced and looked after,” he stated.

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DUP MP Jim Shannon, who has been an Apprentice Boy for 45 years, said: "I walk the streets of Londonderry every year. I saw John Hume there, when he was about. I did not see you this year, Colum, by the way—you were conspicuous by your absence.”

Mr. Eastwood said he was overseas.

Mr. Shannon continued: “I have said this lots of time to my own tradition. Londonderry is one of those places where they agreed to a parade—the history of it that we all love; I have been a member of that for 45 years.

"For me, that is an example of what can happen, and that is down to the Apprentice Boys themselves, who made sure they came to an accommodation with the nationalist parties.

"It is one that I point to as an example of where you can do better if you accept the traditions from both sides and understand that.”