Annually on July 12th, Ulster Protestants commemorate a 329-year-old military victory when the last British Catholic monarch King James II was defeated by Protestant King William, formerly Prince of Orange in Holland, at the Battle of the Boyne. Since then the pro Orange fraternity parade in all their regalia, banners, drums and all on a date which in the past has been marked by violent confrontations. If it were just a harmless, inclusive, colourful historical pageantry, like thousands of similar historical celebrations in the world, it would be great, but it isn’t. For everybody across the political nationalists-loyalists divide know very well how these events have contributed, for decades, to fuel one of the most anachronistic and to some extent tribal confrontation in modern times. Names such as IRA, UVF, UDR and others are only too familiar to those who have witnessed what has happened in Northern Ireland over decades. I, for one, had the assignment of reporting from Ireland for n.1 Italian private radio station, RTL 102.5 of Milan on the northern Ireland peace negotiations in the late ‘90s. Things have improved ever since, but old habits are still there in a climate of stubbornness the likes of which is hard to find anywhere in the world. The Orange marches are still there and so are the latent pretexts to re-start war all over again on both sides of the political divide. The establishement of a Northern Ireland governing Assembly in Belfast, commonly known as Stormond, with the participation of all political sides, was one of the greatest achievements of the so called Good Friday Agreement, but it was dissolved over two years ago for lack of agreements between the major parties without a hope of being re-constituted. And all this has happened at a time when some political unity in North of Ireland would have been useful in a climate of great uncertainty due to Brexit.
This vacuum not only rehashes old socio-political grievances, but also creates new ones in an atmosphere of utter irreconcilability. The PSNI, the local Police force, no more a one denomination but a devolved institution, has now to content with the danger of a return to the deplorable past. One of the customs hard to die, tied with the 12th of July celebrations is the erection the day before of huge and extremely dangerous bonfires. They are lit in some loyalist areas across Northern Ireland. This year Belfast City Council has decided not to remove a contentious loyalist bonfire at a leisure centre car park in Belfast, just to prevent violent confrontations.
Will the people of Northern Ireland ever start living in the present to better their future?
Concetto La Malfa

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