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Sunday 4 July 2004

Wanted — a monumental boneheadedness

COVERING Northern Ireland, one is frequently required to think about commemoration. In a world where tribalism ensures that a memorial stone or mural or a commemorative service or celebration is often as much an affront to the enemy as a mark of respect to your own, rows over erecting or demolishing, honouring or dishonouring the dead of the world wars or the Troubles are constant. 

There are monuments I'd like to see erected myself, most particularly to the unfortunate victims of cruel and myopic paramilitaries, but there are others that I fantasise about. 

An economist friend long ago proposed the erection of a statue in Belfast to 'The Unknown British Taxpayer'. The only difficulty is that the Northern Irish people would expect the British government to pay for it. 

I sometimes try designing in my head something suitable to mark the Drumcree dispute, still with us after nine years. 

This is not easy and probably would require 10 tons of marble and a sculptor from ancient Greece capable of illustrating stupidity and naivete and obstinacy and malice and viciousness and hatred and brutality and murderousness and futility - with a symbol of innocence somewhere in the centre to represent those people who died because the republican leadership fomented trouble at Drumcree to advance their political agenda and the Orange Order walked headlong into the trap where they're still sitting, looking bewildered. 

Somewhere in this complex sculpture will be a Janus head with on one side Gerry Adams (who in 1997 proudly told a Sinn Fein conference that three years of work by republican activists had gone into "creating that situation" in Drumcree and other hot spots), and on the other, the late Billy Wright, on whose orders Michael McGoldrick was murdered in his taxi to raise the ante on Drumcree II. 

With any luck, it should be reported around lunchtime today that Portadown District Orange Lodge protested peacefully at Drumcree against the Parades Commission's decision to ban them from walking home via the Garvaghy Road after their commemorative service and then went off quietly to their Sunday dinner. 

Indeed, the omens are generally good for a quiet summer on the parades front. 

Sinn Fein/IRA and the DUP are working up to autumn negotiations by trying to pin the blame for any trouble on each other, so it suits them to be statesmanlike, conciliatory and peace-loving. 

So, though the Orange Standard reports the usual pre-Twelfth of July outbreak of attacks on Orange halls, they are minor so far ("Up the IRA" slogans in silver spray, the odd brick) and while republicans are bitterly condemning any parade decisions they don't like, it's clear that violence is officially off the menu. 

Throwing petrol bombs at the police is so yesterday: clean-cut young people standing with banners saying "Parades Commission Capitulates" is where it's at. And if any of them misbehave they'll get a right wigging from that stern justice spokesman and ex-bomber, Gerry Kelly. 

Like Gerry Adams, the Reverend Ian Paisley is claiming that the Parades Commission are moral cowards caving into threats of violence, but he will not be seen at Drumcree whipping up emotions. The benighted Breandan MacCionnaith of the Garvaghy Road, whose passion for headlines has made him at times a rather loose cannon, can also be relied on to behave. 

After years insisting unconvincingly that he was politically independent, he is now on the Sinn Fein payroll. 

The Portadown Orangemen are as sick of Drumcree as is everyone else and are deeply anxious to find an agreed solution. Indeed, in this year's twist, they've already made gestures that have them in trouble with Orange HQ. 

Somewhere in my elaborate Drumcree monument there will be something representing boneheadedness. 

Until recently, that would have had on it the name of the late Harold Gracey, the local District Master, a nice man who spent a lot of time during his declining years sitting in a caravan near Drumcree Church confusing flexibility with weakness and intelligence with a lack of principle. 

This year, however, for sheer numbskullery, Orange HQ have trumped Gracey at his worst. 

The majority of its members want to talk to the Parades Commission and some of its officers do so informally, but the leadership insists that everyone should adhere to an earlier half-witted decision to boycott the Commission on the grounds that it is an unelected quango, as if that had anything to do with anything. 

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland is outraged that Portadown District sent representatives to an event in South Africa organised by the Commission (to which MacCionnaith - whose cry is "dialogue" - refused to go) and is seeking to suspend the District and stop it parading anywhere. 

Note to sculptor: don't omit from your creation a tribute to the Department of You Couldn't Make it Up. 

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards