Tensions mount over loyalist St. Patrick’s Day parade in Armagh
The spokesman for a controversial loyalist St. Patrick’s Day parade has spoken to Newry Times about the march and said nationalists have nothing to fear. The Parades Commission will decide tomorrow afternoon whether the parade will go ahead, after hearing representations from Sinn Fein, SDLP and the band organisers.Quincey Dougan is an organiser and spokesman for the Cormeen Rising Sons of William flute band and he dismissed suggestions that the parade was being timed to antagonise or provoke members of the nationalist community.
“We want to make it very clear that their [Cormeen Rising Sons of William flute band] 2012 St Patrick’s Day procession isn’t being hosted in Armagh on a whim or to annoy anyone. It has been the goal of the band to host the event in the city since they first started commemorating the occasion in 2005. The event is a St Patrick’s Day celebration. As such Armagh City, the home of Patrick, is the most logical location.”The date – 17th March – according to Dougan, is one that many unionists feel uncomfortable with each year, due in no small part to what he described as ‘the overt Irish Nationalist and Republican trappings’. Undeterred however, he claims that the Cormeen Rising Sons of William flute band view St. Patrick and his legacy as ‘very relevant to Protestantism and Unionism’ and it should be a day that belongs to all of the people of Northern Ireland, and this event is giving those who are intimidated by other events a chance to express that view.
“While the event is of course a traditional Ulster band parade, and obviously participation will therefore be limited to bands from within that sector, all are welcome to watch and enjoy the music and colour of the procession regardless of creed or colour. As such, the event falls within the remit of the Council policy on St Patrick’s events in the City. The band has made it very clear they will talk to anyone with concerns, however despite notifying the procession to the Parades Commission over 6 months ago they have only heard of concerns within the last 14 days and even then only via third party sources. Offers of meetings within the last week to parties with concerns have as yet not been taken up upon. Cormeen Flute have fully cooperated with all statutory regulations regarding hosting their annual event, will abide fully with the Parades Commission determination and would urge others to do so.”
Dougan says the connection between the members of the band with Armagh made the city the most obvious location for the band to march through. “The band and its membership have a connection with the city that outweighs any other village or town. Several members were born and grew up in the city with most educated in the city. For most the commercial and social aspects of the city are fundamental parts of their daily lives. Armagh City and District Council area has the highest number of Ulster marching bands as ratio to population in Northern Ireland with 50 in operation. A majority of the participants within the event will be bands from this catchment area, many of which hold the same affinity with the town as Cormeen.”
Dismissing the notion that the parade could affect community relations in Armagh, Dougan continued by pointing out all the great work being carried out by both sides of the community over the past ten years. “It has been publicly acknowledged that community relations in Armagh City are at their best stage in modern times. Armagh City has not had any political or religious motivated public disorder for over a decade; local politicians of all hues are working together with minimal friction in Council chambers. Community groups from different backgrounds are engaging in various projects; the commercial centre is reasonably successful in current terms with no regard to denomination of business ownership; central social venues like the cinema and theatre are acknowledged as being neutral and all educational establishments are regularly working together in various initiatives.”
Quincey believes the band and its organisers have prepared as much as possible to ensure there will be no trouble on the day. He explained to Newry Times that a detailed commercial and community impact assessment was commissioned, as well as the programme of events in relation to St Patrick’s celebrations in the City in 2012 examined in depth. He insisted that the band procession is deliberately scheduled as to not interfere with other events.
“The parade route does not impinge on any premises hosting events, with traffic disruption minimal as confirmed by the PSNI. Armagh City has a well established band procession route that has no historical issues of contention. Commercial impact is negated by the factual reality that Armagh has a minimal history of late night shopping plus most businesses are closed for the holiday. For the handful of businesses opening, marshals will ensure that pedestrian and vehicular traffic is unimpeded. Several businesses have informed Cormeen they are opening just for the procession.”
He continued, “In terms of infrastructure, Armagh is infinitely better equipped than any other nearby local hamlet, village or town to hold events of almost any nature or scale. Full risk assessment, health and safety action plan, marshaling plan and first aid points have been prepared, and the band have fully liaised and cooperated with the PSNI.”
Disagreeing with various media reports recently which described the band as ‘marginal’ and an ‘extremist movement’, Quincey recited some interesting statistics to back up his claims. “Armagh District Council Area has 50 marching bands from the ‘Ulster’ band tradition. There is 17 Accordion, 17 Flute, 9 Pipe and 7 Silver. There is a band for every 500 people within the Protestant/ Unionist/ Loyalist tradition in Armagh District Council area- this is not a marginal or extremist movement. Some consider themselves Loyalist, some Unionist, some don’t give themselves labels- they usually get applied by external sources – but all are ‘Ulster’ bands. They all share the same historical origins and a common cultural identity. There are 51 GAA clubs in County Armagh- there are 64 bands. There are considerably less than 300 GAA clubs in Northern Ireland. There are over 600 bands from the ‘Ulster’ band tradition.”
Reiterating his and the band’s willingness to speak to any member of the community and any political party, Dougan concluded, “We will talk to anyone who wants to speak to us about this. We have tried to speak to Sinn Fein and SDLP but the response so far has been poor. If anyone has any questions about this or wants to discuss it further then please contact us.”
Newry & Armagh MP Conor Murphy however, is hopeful the Parades Commission will ‘rectify most ridiculous determination’. Speaking to Newry Times ahead of tomorrow’s determination, Murphy stated, “When the decision was revealed to allow 40 loyalist bands to march through Armagh City on the evening of St Patrick’s Day, Sinn Féin immediately asked for a review of what has to be the one of the most ridiculous determinations ever made in relation to marching in the North. The input from the PSNI on this occasion has been totally disastrous. They have actually influenced the determination by unbelievably claiming there are ‘no local concerns or sensitivities’ around this march.”
Murphy continued, “Don’t they know it is going to be St Patrick’s Day on Saturday? Either the PSNI in Armagh have a total lack of understanding of the nationalist feelings in the area or there are other agendas at work. At the same time the Parades Commission cannot wash their hands of this and ultimately the buck stops with them – they made this flawed determination.”
“Hopefully common sense will prevail tomorrow at the review and we can put this ridiculous decision behind us and enjoy the St Patrick’s Day festivities in Armagh on Saturday,” Murphy added.
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