Let me take you out of Derry tonight and into the heart of North Belfast to a place called Ardoyne. Ardoyne has been at the centre of a lot of controversy recently following negotiations to dismantle the Twadell Protest Camp. The Protest Camp was set up in July 2013 in opposition to a parade ruling to restrict an Orange Order Parade. What was effectively an act of trespass on the part of the protesters ended up costing the taxpayer a staggering £21 million to police, with the the camp located close to the nationalist Ardoyne area. Yes folks you've read that correctly, at a time when health, education and welfare budgets were being slashed, £21 million was spent on policing an illegal camp. Welcome to Starship Norn Iron!
A few weeks ago it emerged that negotiations to dismantle the Twadell camp were not only ongoing but at an advanced stage. Key to these negotiations were two gentlemen in particular, the Reverend Harold Goode and Derry 'business' man Jim Roddy MBE. The Reverend Harold Goode is well known for his input in situations of a sensitive nature but I fail to see where Jim Roddy fitted here, in fact I'm equally curious as to what line of business he is in.
Let me clarify, it is not my intention to dismiss Jim's efforts, on the contrary, his temerity is to be commended. With the removal of the Twadell camp marking the first phase of a possible many Jim now has the task of engaging with residents who are clearly unhappy with the process and the outcome of the negotiations both he and others played a pivotal role in. So on that note, Good Luck Jim!
The angry scenes in Ardoyne last weekend dominated news headlines and singled out one Ardoyne resident in particular, GARC spokesperson Dee Fennell. In a spate of unbalanced media reporting Fennell has been heavily criticised and labelled a bully for his forthright manner towards local clergy member Fr Gary Donegan. What some press outlets have failed to show or mention is that Fennell's input came about as he tried to diffuse a potentially volatile situation involving irate residents. This is clear from the unedited version of video footage which appeared online. In the 'edited version' the media didn't show Mr. Fennell pointing out to Fr Donegan how local residents were unable to go about their business, and how the allowing of this parade was not welcomed by a lot of people in the area. As someone who has crossed swords (online debate) with Fennell in the past and with no axe to grind either way I feel that Fennell is being used as a scapegoat to deflect from a deal which excluded residents from a process they should have been central to. Something which has has been confirmed by one Ardoyne resident I am friendly with. Not much of a fresh start!
As the dust settled I was surprised to read that Father Gary Donegan stated that the 'confrontation with protesters' on Saturday reminded him of the Holy Cross dispute. Oddly, I don't remember any news reports from Saturday showing people throwing bombs at children trying to get to school. It would seem that Father Gary is playing his part in trying to move the focus away from the issue of contention residents face, which is they don't want a loyalist parade in their area. If you're reading this Father Donegan I would suggest a period of reflection followed by a concerted effort to engage with your flock, and this time the entire flock. After all if I'm not mistaken does Catholic not mean universal and all encompassing because if I'm right then helping exclude residents from the process wasn't very Catholic of you.
To understand why people are feeling angry particularly those who were prevented from going about their daily business on Saturday those quick to condemn them should have a cursory glance at Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This article provides for the right to have your family, private life, home and correspondence respected. Article 9 provides for the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, so those parishioners of Father Donegan's who couldn't attend his church, in their own area, or who are being lambasted by the media for expressing an opinion are having their human rights violated. But hey why let facts get in the way of deflection!
One of the things that saddened me most this weekend was the scene with the older man who was clearly frustrated by the way he and his community had been treated, a man who has since been described as a heckler. Where was Father Gary's Christianity as he stood glaring at this older man? It seemed that Father Donegan was incapable of understanding that this man was upset and moreover, incapable of responding to him. This was a long way from when the same Father Donegan was interviewed for an article called 'Faith on the Interface' when he said “the fact that his parishioners did not have to endure the return parade reduced tension on the Catholic side.” When my husband watched Fr Gary's performance on the news, he said “if ever there was a poster boy for atheism it's yer man there.” If the picture had of been in black & white I would've guessed it was back at the time when no one could say boo to man of the cloth, and just look where that ended up!
As people watch the biased news reports singling out individuals as bullies or hecklers maybe they should look at what the people of Ardoyne have had to endure. There were nearly 100 lives lost in the parish during the troubles and there was the Holy Cross issue and the attacks on School children. Added to this has been the violence meted out against residents during successive marching seasons. Violence such as a leading loyalist ramming his car into a crowd of people injuring a 13 year old girl, and those incidents barely scratch the surface of what they have endured.
The reality now for the people of Ardoyne is that a precedent has been set for the return leg of the Orange Order march. As it stands residents are now in limbo as to what happens next and unsure of what they will have to 'endure'. To address this there needs to be immediate dialogue between the negotiators and local residents, particularly those initially excluded from the process,. With this I do hope a broad consensus can be reached. I would also hope that those buying into the outcome of the alleged consultation on the issue consider that the views of community groups, most of which are politically weighted, are no substitute for the views and input of the people who live in the area. The people who will have to endure the aftermath of each deal imposed upon them and the precedent it sets.