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The Alternative to the annual battleground
ON MONDAY afternoon Northern Ireland ground to a halt as the Orange Order blocked roads in protest over Drumcree. Shops, offices, and workplaces closed early as people tried to get home before the barriers went up.
Belfast city centre after 4pm was like a ghost towns in old westerns. The wind whistled through empty streets. All that was missing was the tumbleweed!
The protest was effective, but not because most of the Protestant population were involved. Most people just went home to avoid the rush.
Among Protestants there is support for Orangemen's right to march but most people feel they should talk to local residents and be prepared to give a bit. Likewise Catholics overwhelmingly sympathise with the residents but also feel there should be talks and a solution.
Drumcree grabbed the headlines, but reports of the disruption were exaggerated. There is tension but not to the extent of a few years ago when civil war seemed a possible outcome.
In fact the biggest mobilisation was nothing to do with Drumcree. On the previous Friday, 50,000 people - more than were ever involved at Drumcree - turned out in Ballymoney for the funeral of motor cycling legend Joey Dunlop.
Catholics and Protestants from the north as well as hundreds from the south turned out. The Drumcree organisers were forced to acknowledge the event and called off the protests and roadblocks for much of the day.
The same day, the entire workforce of Shorts, a factory which has staged loyalist walkouts in the past, went on strike. This was nothing to do with Drumcree but the first in a series of one-day strikes over a new three year pay deal.
THIS IS not to underestimate what's happened - or the potential for worse violence. The cutting edge of the Drumcree protests has been widespread sectarian attacks.
Interface areas, where Catholic and Protestant working-class people live cheek by jowl have seen almost nightly sectarian violence. There has been intimidation in some workplaces. Loyalist paramilitaries visited a building site in Belfast where a Socialist Party member works, to threaten the 'fenians' working there. The site was forced to close for a week.
As in previous years there were petrol bombings and shootings. Schools and Chapels have been attacked. This sectarianism has not all been one sided, Orange Halls and Protestant property has also been attacked. And the so-called 'real' IRA planted a bomb in Stewartstown, timed to go off at the height of the Drumcree protest.
The vast majority of working-class people don't support any of this. Yet most people feel quite powerless and retreat to their homes waiting for it all to pass over.
The trade unions and community organisations, who could more accurately reflect working-class people's feelings than the sectarians who are heard loudest just now, are largely silent. After a while Drumcree will most likely wind down for another year. The token protest will remain on the hill. Nothing will have been solved.
Instead of the end of one marching season starting the countdown to the next, this time it should start the building of a united working class movement capable of putting forward a socialist alternative and finding a way out of this annual sectarian mayhem.
In The Socialist 14 July 2000: