Martin Galvin (MG) interviews former blanketman and now solicitor Seamus Delaney (SD) via telephone from Belfast about July Twelfth in Belfast this year. (begins time stamp ~ 20:10)
MG: With us on the line we have Seamus Delaney. Seamus, as listeners know, he is a former blanketman – is a solicitor also – the reason he’s allowed to do both is that his case was dismissed on appeal. Most former blanketmen whose cases weren’t dismissed they’re disqualified from professions like Seamus has. He has now used that ability, came to the United States in 1981, campaigned for the hunger strikers at that time and people smarter than I did recognised his eloquence and verbal ability and said he should go back and become a solicitor, or a lawyer. He’s done that and he’s used his skill to defend others. So Seamus, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann, you’ve been here in the past.
SD: Thanks very much, Martin. Good to hear from you.
MG: Alright, Now Seamus, we’re going to talk about July the Twelfth and all that happened throughout the North of Ireland last week. You have an office – you’re originally from Belfast – you have an office in Ardoyne, one of the hot points of July Twelfth, but I was going to ask you to try to put in words that Americans listening to you can understand but instead I’m just going to read something that was in the Larne Times today – it’s on nuzhound, n-u-z-h-o-u-n-d, if you want to read the article, and ask you to comment and make that explanation in these terms. It’s from an individual named Danny Donnelly and he was an Alliance Party Councillor. Now Alliance, for our audience, they’re people who are supposed to be cross-community, they are Unionists, they’re Catholics and Protestants who want to support a union, who want to support getting better conditions within the North of Ireland so he’s not somebody described as a Republican. And he wrote an article:
As I was driving to work on Monday July 11th I drove past a local bonfire and was horrified to see my face at the top of it. I lived in Larne most of my life. My friends and family are here. There are generations of my family buried in the town cemetery and I chose to bring my children up in my hometown, too. To see my face and family name targeted to be incinerated for the entertainment of people chilled me to the bone. I’ve seen pictures and effigies of the Pope, Sinn Féin politicians, Celtic tops atop bonfires over the years but I never expected to see myself there. And he concluded, he said: I understand bonfires are important to Unionist culture but the burning of flags, election posters, religious items or anything deliberately placed there to offend is hugely disrespectful and hurtful.
Seamus, why does this go on and why is this supposedly part of a Loyalist celebration?
SD: Well we’ve seen, we witnessed what happened on the Eleventh Night bonfires with John O’Dowd and Sinn Féin and other Sinn Féin election posters that were stolen after elections and hidden away until the bonfire nights and then they’re placed onto the bonfires to be set on fire. I would imagine the reason why this particular politician from the Alliance Party has been pinpointed, for want of a different expression, is because of the flags issue: As you remember a few years ago at Belfast City Hall when the Alliance Party supported a motion put forward to City Hall that prevents the Union Jack from being flied on a daily basis; from being flown on a daily basis. And the Alliance Party at that time really came under immense pressure – their offices were attacked – in some cases they were burned out – their politicians were vilified on the streets. Naomi Long, who represented East Belfast and took the seat from Peter Robinson, her office was attacked on a number of occasions due to this so I would imagine this particular individual has been set upon in this way would be more to do with that issue.
But the fact of the matter is that it happens on an annual basis with Sinn Féin politicians and it was raised then, as I said by John O’Dowd last week, and in actual fact it was raised and condemned by a Ulster Unionist Councillor whose job it was for her to go around the bonfires because these bonfires, Martin, as you understand, they are funded, to a large extent, by the local district councils. And in order to acquire funding they have to be of a cross-community nature similar to the issue that during the week here when you had Paul Givan, the new Arts Minister, re-introducing the funding for Orange parades, for Orange bands – two hundred thousand pounds pinpointed to give to Orange bands allegedly for new instruments. Now, even in that particular mechanism I would be surprised if there wasn’t a challenge there in some way by way of judicial review because there is under no circumstances can it be seen, can it be agreed, under any stretch of the imagination that that money, directed to that particular area, would be for a cross-community project. It’s simply not cross-community. The Orange Order, by their ethos, by their every fibre that makes them up, are not cross-community. So this is money…
MG: …Alright. Seamus is talking about Paul Givan. He is actually a Democratic Unionist Party Councillor – or Minister – and they are part of a cabinet which includes Sinn Féin members. He was able to, he was pictured actually, lighting one of these bonfires that we just talked about where images or sometimes pictures, religious symbols, etc can be put on top of, he was actually pictured lighting a bonfire. And his colleague, Edwin Poots, also a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, also an elected official – the Democratic Unionist Party being the leading party in the North of Ireland. It is a Loyalist party. Edwin Poots was pictured next to a bonfire, enjoying it, where members of Sinn Féin, as Seamus has just pointed out, their pictures, their election posters were placed on top of it and burned.
Seamus, why are these parades, why do these bonfires – why is it so important for Unionists to burn Catholics, burn religious symbols, burn people in effigy, why is that featured so strongly in Unionist celebrations of July the Twelfth?
SD: Well July the Twelfth, and the Orange Order will tell you that they are not sectarian by ethos, that they are simply celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne and the defeat of King James by King William of Orange and this is a celebration of that battle that took place in 1690. It’s difficult to understand as well but to the people in America it must hard to understand it. Basically it’s a situation where there are over three thousand five hundred Orange parades per year and they are all managed as well by the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) at a cost to the state – not a cost to the Orange Order. A lot of them at the moment would be seen as controversy.
You’ve seen the Twaddell Camp up at Ardoyne where at the insistence of the Orange Order to march past a Catholic area of Ardoyne and the residents of Ardoyne have been preventing that from going on. Now they’ve been marching down the road at the early hours and there was a protest against that and the Parades Commission allowed it to happen but they prevented them from walking back up the road. And you now have an absolute absurd situation where after the celebrations, at the field which it’s called, at the end of the day when the Orange celebrations have taken part and they march back to their lodges – they get bused, they get buses, bring them to the flash point of Ardoyne simply to insist on trying to march past – instead of staying on the bus and going directly home – they’re trying to march directly past the area of Ardoyne and it’s causing tremendous, tremendous trouble there, as we’ve seen in the past few years.
And because it’s been prevented by the Parades Commission and there is an encampment at the top of Twaddell Avenue, it’s now called the Twaddell Camp, and it’s sitting there as protest because of the Parades Commission refusing to let the march go ahead. And that’s been there now, it’s coming on to be years, and it’s cost millions in order to maintain that and it’s actually – the land where they’re occupying belongs to the council and was earmarked for social housing and that is housing that can’t go ahead until this has been settled. It’s a complete absurd situation that the insistence of the Orange Order to march up the fifty yards past Ardoyne where people do not want them to go. There’s no reason that my area, or people from that area of the Ardoyne, are preventing the Orange Order or those who follow that to celebrate their culture. That is not the case, absolutely. I certainly would not defend anyone saying to take anyone’s culture away. But the fact of the matter remains that people in this area do not want to see Orange celebrations. They see them as a bigoted exercise against the Catholic community. They do not want them in their area and they’re quite happy to accept the fact of the matter that they go on but not in their areas – and it doesn’t prevent their day-to-day domestic issues from taking part and it’s simply the two residents groups that are in Ardoyne at the moment that strongly object to this parade going ahead.
MG: Alright. We’re talking with Seamus Delaney, he is a former blanketman now a very prominent solicitor – his firm is moving up the ladder on the legal aid – they’re going to overtake Kevin Winters’ firm very shortly I believe. But Seamus, just to go back: The Ardoyne is a very strongly Nationalist, probably a very strongly Republican, enclave. It’s near the Shankill Road. It is the Unionists or Loyalists who would march by it, or Orangemen, have a route to go.
They’re allowed to pass by Ardoyne shops in the morning but they were asked to take a different route to avoid that Nationalist area, avoid insulting, intimidating, causing hardship to that Nationalist area in the evening and because of that you said they formed a camp. They camp out every night. They have nightly demonstrations. They cause noise every night. It’s cost millions of pounds to the community simply in an effort to force that march – not just going down into the centre of Belfast and taking another route back but it has to go back and annoy – if it doesn’t intimidate Nationalists in that Nationalist enclave it’s seems like it’s not a total – they won’t really enjoy it. Is that a correct understanding of what’s going on?
SD: That’s it in a nutshell, Martin. You got it in one. And for anyone listening it can seem very frustrating to see what’s going on but the fact of the matter is that on the one hand we have the organisers of these Orange parades saying that their members behave themselves, there’s no issues as far as sectarianism is concerned. Then we look at what happens with the bonfires and what’s being burned on these bonfires as far as election posters are concerned, as far as Glasgow Celtic football jerseys – I mean everything imaginable that can cry out in a sectarian way is being burned on these bonfires.
And to say that the marches that are going past in these flash point areas are not sectarian coat-trailing exercises then there’s something wrong. The people of those areas see them as something different, see them as sectarian, and don’t want them in the area and that’s where the controversy is coming from. That’s it in a nutshell.
MG: Now just – we’re coming to the end – but there was claims that they were very near a resolution. You said there are two groups: the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) and another group, CARA (Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents Association). I know that you’re friends, you have good terms, you represent people at various times from both groups, you don’t take one side over another but the resolution seemed to fall through. Some people have suggested because it’s the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) that’s associated with the lodge that pulled out – what exactly prevented there from being any kind of resolution?
SD: Well as you know, like in any legal negotiations, Martin, you need to have all stakeholders there at the table. You need to have all stakeholders who have to have their say. And in this particular instance what happened was one of the Orange lodges disagreed with what arrangements, what proposals, were reached during one of those meetings. It was also claimed also that, as far as Ardoyne is concerned, that not everyone was being represented, but you did have representatives of Sinn Féin, representatives of the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party), representatives of the local communities there and it was simply, basically, the situation – if it was a situation where there was going to be a resolution to allow this parade to go ahead then that was just basically a step too far for a lot of the people in Ardoyne and they would be seen to be represented from the GARC residents’ collective but unless you have everyone that’s a stakeholder, everyone at the table, I don’t think it’s going to end up in a positive resolution.
People will say: ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’ – a lot of people want to see this resolved. And no more so than the people of Ardoyne but in order to do that you going to have to have everyone at the table and everybody’s going to have to be in agreement. And as you said apparently the fingerprints of the UVF were seen to be down in there and that prevented the resolution also – so unless everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet I’m afraid we’re going to be here talking about this and talking about this encampment this time next year.
MG: Alright. One quick question: I know you don’t represent him but just today the story broke, Tony Taylor, he’s a Doire Republican. He had been imprisoned, he was released on licence, he was brought in again, he was imprisoned on licence. They said he was being investigated for charges and held without bail on the decision of now former Secretary Theresa Villiers. And it was announced today that there are no charges against him, he committed no illegal activity, but he’s still being held on licence and they don’t know if he’ll get any kind of legal proceeding to challenge this, to get released. How can that be that somebody who – they’re not going to be charged with any offence, was released on licence, that he can’t see what the information against him is, that he can’t challenge it – and that he’s still – this Doire Republican is still in prison?
SD: Well I mean it’s happened before as you know, Martin, but in this particular case and obviously as you said, I don’t represent Tony Taylor, but where I think that the case against him is coming from is under licence he would be prevented from associating with those that the state would see to be subversives or anti-state and therefore they use it as an excuse – and as I understand it I think Tony Taylor was with his wife in the car on his way to some function when he was stopped and he was just taken. He wasn’t questioned, wasn’t taken to the detention centre and questioned about any activity, and simply returned to the prison to be later told that his licence was revoked. And it’s assumed that the reason for it is because he was associating with people he’d think of as friends, people who he grew up with who the state now say he shouldn’t be associating with those individuals and that they have simply revoked his licence.
MG: Well I’m familiar with the area of Doire where he lives and if you could avoid all political prisoners, I don’t know how you would do that unless you locked yourself in the bathroom at home.
MG: Alright, Seamus, thank you again for trying to make some sense of what there may not be any sense to – the Orange parades on July the Twelfth – and telling us or explaining a little bit of what it’s like for those who have to endure those parades and hopefully we’ll be back to you again in future.
SD: Okay, Martin. Good to talk to you. (ends time stamp ~ 37:45)