Letter to Billy

by Danny Morrison
Andersonstown News
July 21, 2004

Last Friday, former UVF killer, Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive
UnionistParty, and North and West Belfast Parades Commission, said
that he didn't understand nationalist objections to loyalist marchers
coming through nationalist areas and that he was prepared to talk.
Danny Morrison replies.

Billy, working backwards, the Brits occupied Iveagh Elementary
School, next to the Pigeon Club, on a Monday, and we welcomed them.
Our barricades on Broadway and surrounding streets had been erected
on the Saturday. Bombay Street had been burnt down on the Friday.
Throughout Thursday night and into its early, scary hours, hundreds
of Catholic homes had been petrol-bombed and seven people shot dead,
including nine-year-old Patrick Rooney by the RUC.

Some say it all began in August 1968 when the civil rights movement
was asking for trouble by 'illegally' marching from Coalisland to
Dungannon, a march few knew about. Others, that it started on October
5th 1968 when the RUC were caught by the world's press baton-charging
the civil rights marchers in Duke Street, Derry.

Billy Love, try, try to imagine it. It was decades in the making: all
that humiliation; industry located in unionist areas; priority
housing for government supporters; jobs for their boys; extra votes
for their businessmen; the boat to England, Australia and the USA for
our ones.

However, on the Tuesday - the 12th August, 1969 - during an
Apprentice Boys march through Derry, some bandsmen, or their
supporters, threw pennies from the city walls towards nationalists
below in the Bogside, to remind them of their 'poverty' and second-
class citizenship.

Rioting erupted and nationalist youths, having witnessed the invasion
of their area by the RUC some months earlier when Sammy Devenny was
badly beaten in his own home, and later died, were this time well-
prepared. The 'Battle of the Bogside' - three days of fierce rioting -
began. The RUC repeatedly fired CS gas into the Rossville Flats but
couldn't suppress the uprising, coverage of which was now, again,
assuming international proportions. Effete, from fifty years of
supremacy, the RUC was so quickly exhausted that the Ulster Unionist
government at Stormont mobilised the Protestant paramilitary B-

Fears that fresh RUC forces were also to be sent to Derry led to a
series of nationalist protests across the North.

It was after one such demonstration outside Hastings Street barracks
in Divis Street that the B-Specials, the RUC in armoured cars and
loyalist supporters invaded this deprived area, burning houses,
shooting up homes and killing civilians.

The British army were then hurriedly deployed to replace the
discredited RUC and act as 'peacekeepers' - though they quickly came
to be viewed by nationalists as an instrument of unionist and British
rule. Meanwhile, behind the barricades, the IRA was reorganising.

Billy, history can be disputed but not personal experience. It was
thirty-five years ago, I was sixteen, and as far as my generation is
concerned, the real touch paper for the explosion of the conflict was
a loyalist march through a nationalist area.

Which is why loyalists marching past Ardoyne last week (after the
Agreement you voted for, negotiations, a peace process, an IRA
ceasefire), marching in the circumstances that they did, in
collaboration with the British secretary of state and the PSNI,
justifies for many people the resumption of an armed struggle, if it
means that nothing really has changed.

I believe that there is nothing to be further gained by armed
struggle but you and mainstream unionist leaders need to tell not me,
but others, that that is not the case. We switch on the news and we
hear that nationalists, according to unionists, are 'intolerant' and
are out to 'destroy Protestant culture.'

What is it about the culture of the Twelfth, and other Orange
celebrations, Billy, that we object? To tell the truth, I view the
celebration of the victory of Protestant William of Orange over
Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 as a bit
pathetic, but not a real problem. No problem either, Billy, with
painting your own pavements red, white and blue; nor loudly playing
Oswald Mosley's greatest hits, in your own areas.

I am not a Papist but burning effigies of the Pope on top of Eleventh
Night bonfires is hardly a statement of non-sectarianism. Burning
effigies of Sinn Fein representatives also sends out - how can I
phrase it? - a KKK passion for burning people to death? Then there is
the erecting of paramilitary flags outside Catholic homes; the
erecting of arches in mixed communities; and loudly banging Lambeg
drums whilst passing Catholic areas.

Then, Billy, there's the bonfires, where hooded UVF paramilitaries,
amongst others, strut around with guns and have a shoot-off. To the
side, Catholic homes are petrol-bombed or shot up.

All of which brings us to Ardoyne.

I do not live there and so cannot speak for that community. The
Parades Commission said it would allow the Orange lodges to go
quietly down the road early in the morning. I cannot see me objecting
to that provided I don't hear anything, it passes quickly, the road
is reopened, and nobody bangs on my window offering me, a ninety-year-
old Catholic, or a widow of ten, a fight.

About the return route this year the Commission said, "only Lodge
members and the notified marshals may process on foot", passed
Ardoyne shops. It also said that it expected the unionist
community, "to ensure that no grouping of followers assembles in a
way that would suggest to Ardoyne residents that a second unnotified
parade might be taking place."

Loyalists protested against this ruling. Their supporters blocked
Ligoniel Road, preventing nationalists getting to their homes. Three
weeks ago David Trimble and loyalist paramilitary spokespersons
warned that the parade decision (which loyalist threats successfully
overturned) in relation to a march on the Springfield Road could
create a "serious and dangerous situation" and "may well kick us off
into a very hot summer."

Imagine being penned in all day, Billy. That evening, the three
Orange lodges, as agreed, pass by. Then, less than five minutes
later, the PSNI - suspiciously, vintage 1969 - disingenuously claim
that they have "fully policed the Parades Commission's
determination", that the return leg of the march is 'over' and it is
now a 'new situation'.

Under laughable 'Public Order' considerations they allow five hundred
drunk and semi-drunk loyalists, including known paramilitaries, to
swan past Ardoyne cheering and jeering, singing The Sash and boasting
about who they "gave the message to", that is, shot dead.

Why, Billy, it was like throwing pennies at the Bogsiders.

So, yes, there is a lot to discuss, about your culture, history, but
a lot about our experiences.

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