Martin Galvin (MG) interviews Belfast solicitor Seamus Delaney (SD) via telephone from Ardoyne about what's happening in Belfast in the run-up to the Twelfth of July. A big thanks to TPQ transcriber.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.55FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
4 July 2015
(begins time stamp ~ 11:55)
MG: And we now have Seamus on the line. Seamus, are you with us?
SD: I am indeed, Martin, yes.
MG: Alright, Seamus, you have an office in the Ardoyne section of Belfast. Now, that's a Nationalist area and it's surrounded by Unionist people who are pro-British. Is that correct?
SD: That's correct, yes.
MG: And what is it like for you as you live there, people in the Ardoyne area, as you approach - we're still a week away from July Twelfth - but what is it like for you?
SD: It seems as though, Martin, the area of Ardoyne that you're speaking about where I have my office. It's the area where I actually was born; I grew up there. It was an area that was surrounded predominately by Unionist/Protestant areas. And even to go to school we had to go past Loyalist areas. You've probably seen some of the footage now going back to 2001 with the young girls' primary school, Holy Cross...
MG: ...Yes, where they had to be marched in a parade – that they were jeered – things were thrown at them because they were Nationalists – young, Catholic girls – these were like a grammar school - parading to a school in Holy Cross.
SD: Yeah, these were children aged four to eleven and the persecution they went through because of the abuse they took from the Loyalists in that area was completely intolerable. That is similar to the feelings today in the Ardoyne area. You know and every year when the parades issue comes up people, particularly in Ardoyne and other areas like the Short Strand that have to be confronted by Loyalist parades, it's almost a city under siege. It's almost that they feel their area's under siege. What they're trying to do is live in peace. They don't want sectarian parades marching by their area; it's causing trouble – it's causing upset and so on.
A lot of your readers, Martin, and listeners there (sorry) would have probably read and seen on television the footage - the Twaddell issue. Twaddell Avenue is an area just across the road from Ardoyne; it's a Loyalist area. And since the Loyalists, the Orange parades and Apprentice Boys were refused permission to walk past the Ardoyne shops they've set up an encampment there. And that encampment has been set up on land that belongs to the Housing Executive; it belongs to the Council. This was a particular area that was earmarked for social housing and they have been allowed, without any hindrance – in fact it's been aided, I would say - by Belfast City Council and by other government bodies to remain there as a protest against the Parades Commission's decision not to let them march past the Ardoyne shops. And they've remained there since last year and they say that they're going to remain in occupation, illegally, of that piece of land, until they're allowed to walk past Ardoyne.
Now this is a decision, made by the Orange Orders, where they insist on walking past a piece of the Nationalist area but then they quite happily jumped onto a coach when they reach the Loyalist area and get bused to the field where they have their celebrations and their speeches. And in fact, they're driven back to the point on the common road where they disembark the coaches and then protest that they're not allowed to march. They're perfectly allowed to march by the Parades Commission down the Shankill Road, along all the Loyalist areas and other open and shared areas. It's just this part of Ardoyne - because it is a very sensitive part of Belfast and has the potential for severe violence. And they chose to jump on the coach, to come back over that part of the road so they can just simply march past that area.
MG: Seamus, there are hundreds if not thousands of parades leading up to or around....
SD: ...There are over three and a half thousand Loyalists parades per year.
MG: Right. They go directly into the city centre there's – as you say - more than three thousand five hundred parades – ninety-five percent of them - there's no problem – they're in Unionist areas. Why is it so important - it seems as if no celebration is complete unless you can trample on Nationalists in an area like Ardoyne where people are opposed to you, where they do not want British rule but yet you have to jump on them and show them that they're inferior, second-class citizens within The North of Ireland.
SD: Whether you agree with it or not, Martin, the issue here is: It's the people of Ardoyne that have to live with this. So whether or not you can completely detach yourself from the whole situation, look on it quite reasonably and say to yourself: Is it reasonable for people of that area to object? And it's hard to say no because the people of that area are the people that are subject to these sectarian coat-trailing exercises year-on-year. And as I said, whether you agree with it or not you have to respect their decision.
Now they've wanted and they've asked for dialogue with the Orange institutions and that's been refused. And the reason why it's been refused is because they've simply come back and said: What is the point point in negotiating with the Nationalists of Ardoyne because they simply are not for moving on the issue of us marching past Ardoyne. So if they're not willing to negotiate this then we're not going to speak to them. Now that is taking the same position from themselves! Because they're simply saying: If we can't march past Ardoyne we don't want to speak to you. So they can't on the one hand accuse the people of Ardoyne of being intransigent when they themselves are taking the same view!
MG: Seamus, one of the leaders in fighting against this was a young man named Dee Fennell. He is involved with the Greater Ardoyne Residents' Collective (GARC). He's fought the idea of the Unionists marching down past The Ardoyne. Now, he was arrested for making a speech at an Easter commemoration last Easter. As a result of that will that have any impact on him being in a leadership role in opposing these protests?
SD: Well, I don't represent Dee. I know Dee very well. I don't represent him - it's another firm of solicitors that represents Dee. However, without going into his bail conditions I'd be pretty sure that he's not allowed to organise parades. He's not allowed to attend parades. He wouldn't be allowed to speak to people on the ground since that's the very reason why he was charged in the first place. So Dee has effectively been put out of commission this year by the fact that he was charged and bail conditions imposed on him but...
MG: ...There's some speculation that that's why he was charged - to take him out of a leadership role in opposing Unionist marches or Loyalist marches in Ardoyne.
SD: Well, of course – and we can look through the decades in this particular conflict and you can see the strategies used by the powers that be in order to take people away - to basically decommission them - whether it was by way of interment, whether it was by way of internment-by-remand, or whether it was by Diplock courts, and non-jury Diplock courts and sentencing people solely on the word of a police officer or a supergrass. I mean, these are techniques that are unsurprising to people living in The Six Counties.
MG: And we're talking to Seamus Delaney. He is a solicitor (or a lawyer) with an office in Ardoyne – grew up in the Ardoyne area - talking about what it's like to be in that area as they approach July the Twelfth. Seamus, one of the things that I saw during the week, in addition to the Union Jacks which are put up all over the city or in many areas of the city, including surrounding areas like Ardoyne, in addition to kerbs being painted red, white and blue as a reminder, you now have a couple of places in which there are Confederate flags that have been put up in these areas. What was that supposed to show?
SD: Well again, we look at the Confederate flag and the controversies that are abounding it not only in the United States but in every civilised area but even today the headlines are that in East Belfast, which is a Loyalist area, that a Confederate flag was hoisted on a lamp post, on a telegraph post, outside a young, black football player's home. It's obviously being used, as it's being used in the USA – it's similar to apartheid oppression and it's being used in that way here. And it's being used by Loyalists like that. I mean when you look at it it's representative of one type of community similar to, if we look at the Ulster flag, the six county Ulster flag here, where it's representative of one side of the community and it's used as a tool of apartheid against Nationalists and it doesn't - it fails to represent any and all Nationalists of The Six Counties and it's basically used as a tool in the same vein.
There's other flags that the Loyalists have hoisted up - they've hoisted up Israeli flags – they see themselves as having an affinity with Israel and being a persecuted people and so on. But the issue with the Confederate flag has started to become nasty. There's a very racist attitude going on mainly within Loyalist areas at the moment where Polish people, Lithuanians, people from other areas of Europe coming to The North of Ireland are being persecuted, their businesses are being damaged, their homes are being damaged, they're being assaulted and this is just another issue now with the Confederate flag and the hoisting this flag outside this young, black man's home. It's an absolute disgrace!
MG: Seamus, again we're talking to Seamus Delaney, Seamus – what effect does that have if people want to leave the Ardoyne area – they want to go shopping in another area of the city – they see all these Union Jack flags, you see Confederate flags up, you see all these other signs of supremacism on behalf of Unionists. That must inspire some kind of fear and intimidation in terms of people just trying to go around – go to work, go shopping, go around your daily lives – if you want to leave the Ardoyne area or another Nationalist enclave.
SD: Well sure, absolutely. It's obviously a tool of intimidation. I mean the flags are getting bigger every year. I've just noticed myself driving down from Belfast today with the flags that have been hoisted on lamp posts and every available opportunity where it'll hold a flag – I mean they're hoisted everywhere!
There was a statement there that Margaret Thatcher used and it was just before she signed the Good Friday Agreement, well not the Good Friday Agreement, the time that she'd stated that The North of Ireland was as British as Finchley. And I think it's been taking out of the context now where people from England have actually come over here visiting The North this time of year and they're completely shocked. I listened to a couple of English people a week or so ago and they were saying: My God! You don't see this in England. You see it once a year it hangs from a government building but it's all over roundabouts here, roads, streets, every available opportunity on the lamp posts. So it's as if they're trying to be more British than the people in England for some reason...I don't know what's the idea behind it.
But it's this time of year when this really manifests itself and around The Twelfth celebrations that you get the flags and the banners across the roads, the arches that you have to drive under and so on. But yeah, this is the time of year when they're very, very prevalent and people from areas like Ardoyne that leave their area to go into the town and they're being confronted about this - people do feel intimidated - there's no doubt about that.
MG: Well, a few weeks ago there were Irish flags that were hoisted over Stormont by people from The 1916 Societies and those flags lasted twenty minutes and I believe that there are seven detectives who are assigned to investigate that and try to bring criminal charges. What happens when these Union Jacks are just put up illegally through the towns or areas? What is done to stop that from happening and intimidating people who live in Nationalist areas?
SD: Can I just give you an example there, Martin, in relation to - I represent an individual, a man there in Ardoyne - in actual fact he's a former Republican prisoner and I'd actually served time with this man in the H-Blocks. And he was, he's very much a community-based worker and as you may be aware, Martin, you will be aware, acutely aware, of the suicide evident within the Ardoyne area and it's mainly by teenagers taking their own lives - although there's no barriers there, it covers all ages and sexes - but it's mainly young teenagers, male and female here, who are taking their own lives. And an organisation called PIPS and this man was putting flyers up around lamp posts advising people of the counseling services and the meetings in the local hall in Ardoyne and advertising the time of that meeting and so on. He was stopped by the police, by the PSNI. He is alleging that he was assaulted by the police officers. He was arrested. An associate from my firm attended the police station for him. And when he was brought down to the police station then he was accused of a breach of the peace. And there's been no, to my knowledge, there has been no one that has been arrested, or even stopped and questioned. about erecting flags – and not just Union Jacks or Ulster flags but flags of Loyalist paramilitaries - UVF flags, Ulster Volunteer Force flags - being hoisted on lamp posts and to my knowledge no one has been arrested for anything like that.
MG: So you have a Nationalist – he's trying to do something about teenage suicide – something humanitarian like that without any political basis - he gets arrested. Unionists can put up flags belonging to Unionist paramilitary groups – Union Jacks, Confederate flags – and nothing happens. They're allowed to go forward. Seven people can investigate you for putting a flag up over Stormont for twenty minutes and nobody investigates you if you put Union Jacks all throughout the town. Alright, Seamus, we're going to try to go on to our next guest. Thank you for being with us and keep your head down.
SD: Always a pleasure, Martin. Thanks a lot. You, too.
(ends time stamp ~ 28:40)