Fermanagh Orange chief’s dismay at Belfast thuggery

Loyalist bandsmen and their supporters clash with PSNI riot police at the top of the Woodvale Road on Monday evening. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Loyalist bandsmen and their supporters clash with PSNI riot police at the top of the Woodvale Road on Monday evening. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

A senior rural Orangeman has expressed his dismay at the violent scenes in north Belfast, saying that such savage loyalist attacks on police would be unimaginable in Fermanagh.

Stuart Brooker, the most senior member of the institution in Fermanagh, said that if a Parades Commission ruling led to a parade in the county being halted there would be deep frustration – but no resort to the sort of wanton violence witnessed in the capital.

But despite saying that many in the west of the Province feel “ashamed” at the scenes of lawlessness which have unfolded in Belfast, the Fermanagh County Grand Master said that he did not see any evidence of a split in the Orange Order, adding that “as an institution we are very solid together”.

Yesterday police revealed graphic details of how officers were attacked by the loyalist crowd at Woodvale and Twaddell after the PSNI enforced the ruling of the Parades Commission to stop the return Twelfth parade from passing Ardoyne.

A police commander yesterday underwent surgery to reattach an ear which was severed after he was hit by masonry, while another officer required 12 stitches after his finger was bitten by a rioter.

The PSNI said that a surgeon had said the only reason the finger was not completely bitten off was because he was wearing a motorcycle glove.

Mr Brooker – whose speech to the Kesh demonstration on Monday focused on the lengths to which Fermanagh Orangeism has gone in recent years to build relations with the Roman Catholic community – said that he totally supported the comments of Grand Master Edward Stevenson, who said on Monday that violence is not only wrong, but also counterproductive.

Mr Brooker said it was “a pity” that nationalists in north Belfast were not prepared to allow the Orange parade to pass up the Crumlin Road, a major arterial route into the city.

“Here in Fermanagh, we have been working hard in our community and reaching out as never before – it’s just a pity we don’t see that reciprocation from others who don’t allow that parade to go through a short distance.

“It could all be sorted out in 10 minutes.

“We’re saddened. We don’t want this to happen. We have a lot to offer to our communities.”

He added that it would be “really fantastic if we could find a resolution” to the Twaddell/Ardoyne impasse.

But, when asked if he could imagine a Fermanagh parade which was halted by the Parades Commission descending into the sort of violence seen in north Belfast, Mr Brooker said: “No, I would not envisage the same sort of violence. Yes, there would be upset and we would not like that, but the same violence would not occur down here.

“You just wonder are there elements behind the scenes [in Belfast] that we don’t have down here who throw bricks and bottles at police? We down here, and the wider institution, find that totally unacceptable.”

Mr Brooker said that he believed a “mixture of paramilitaries and youths who want to cause problems” were using some Orange parades in Belfast for their own ends.

“We don’t like what we see and there is a sense of being ashamed down here when you see this.

“The wider community here gets on very well together – we don’t want to see this sort of situation.”

Mr Brooker said that in Fermanagh, where there are more than 2,000 Orangemen, the Order had established itself “as part of the community and are being accepted as such”.

He said that “the wider nationalist community have a wider respect for us as a community” and pointed to several recent cross-border visits where southern politicians visited the Fermanagh Twelfth.

Last year a major Orange Order survey of its membership in Fermanagh revealed frustration at events in Belfast.

One member was reported as saying: “No matter how we create good relations in Fermanagh we will always be let down by the hooligans in Belfast who tarnish our reputation.”