“The first Orange lodge in Ballysillan was formed in 1865 and the first Orange hall was built at Ballysillan in 1868. For almost 150 years, Orange lodges have paraded on the Crumlin Road because it is the main road into the centre of Belfast. Now, after 150 years, the Parades Commission has de facto banned the Orange brethren from returning along the Crumlin Road as part of their annual Twelfth parade.
Throughout the years, that road was a shared road, and, even today, it has on that contended section a major health centre at Everton, a public library, shops, a car wash and an ambulance station; all of these. The shopkeepers are happy to take money from Protestants and Roman Catholics. Nobody asks when you go in to check in your book whether you are a Protestant or a Roman Catholic, but republicans and nationalists in Ardoyne have sought to sectarianise the road and to claim it as their preserve. Year after year, there has been republican violence emanating from Ardoyne, and in response to that, the Parades Commission has through the years placed more and more restrictions on the parades, especially the return parade. It has pandered to republican and nationalist bigotry, it has pandered to the intolerance of the republicans and the SDLP and, especially after last year, it has pandered to dissident republican violence.
Last year, dissident republicans rioted and burned vehicles, while a republican gunman attempted to murder police officers, and then this year, the return parade was banned. Once again, the Parades Commission sends out a very clear message: the Parades Commission rewards violence. That is irresponsible and immoral, and Peter Osborne, Brian Kennaway and the other members of the commission should hang their heads in shame. Previous commissions were bad, but this commission is the worst ever. This determination was not only an attack on the Orange Order, it was an attack on the entire Protestant community in Ballysillan. It has caused deep hurt, and it has damaged community relations.
Of course violence is wrong, and on Sunday afternoon, along with party colleagues, I visited the homes of local people, many of them elderly, who had been affected in various ways by the violence. Indeed, our party colleague Nigel Dodds suffered directly on Friday night, but it is hard to convince others to refrain from violence when they can say to you, “Violence pays”. Moreover, although republican violence and the Parades Commission stopped the parade, violence will not get it back. The way forward is by the removal of the Parades Commission. Northern Ireland needs a new start, a new structure and a new system for the issue of parades; that is a priority. The Parades Commission is not an impartial body, rather it has been thoroughly partisan and punitive. Republicans have opposed Orange parades, and they have been aided and abetted by the Parades Commission.
The commission was a product of direct rule from Westminster and was imposed in Northern Ireland at a time when Sinn Féin was ramping up its campaign against the Orange Order, with parades being disrupted, the order being demonised and Orange halls being attacked. Today, the violence against the Orange Order and Orange parades in north Belfast comes from dissident republicans, but they learned their trade from Sinn Féin.
Forty years ago, on 2 March 1973, an Orangeman by the name of George Walmsley left Ligoniel Orange hall for the last time to go to his home in Glenbank Drive. George was a quiet man who had served in the merchant navy. He lived at home with his parents, his father had died just a week earlier, and he was going home earlier that night to make sure that his mother, an elderly woman, was in good form. He worked as a foreman for the Belfast Corporation and he lived at home with his parents. As he left the hall, Provisional IRA gunmen shot him dead and another Orangeman who was with him was shot nine times by the Provisional IRA but survived. It was a brutal murder, and a thoroughly decent man was murdered by sectarian killers.
The murder of George Walmsley was a brutal murder, and a thoroughly decent man was murdered by sectarian killers. No one has ever been made accountable for the murder, nor have there been any inquiries. How did the Parades Commission mark the 40th anniversary of his murder? They banned the Ligoniel lodges from going home.
We hear much of the talk around a shared future, but it seems that republicans in Ardoyne cannot even share a road with us. We hear much talk from republicans of an island of equals but, as George Orwell put it, some are more equal than others. If we are looking at the issue of apartheid in South Africa and all the rest, I would suggest to some of those here who are republicans and nationalists that if they are looking for issues of supremacy, they should look in the mirror.”