More parades and more bands, but Order says ‘culture war’ is real

The Belfast parade to mark the 322nd anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne
The Belfast parade to mark the 322nd anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne

The Orange Order insists that the republican ‘war’ against British culture is still very real, despite research showing that parades are on the increase and the number of loyalist marching bands is at an all-time high.

Dr Paul Nolan, from Queen’s University, found that the total number of parades in Northern Ireland has doubled in recent years – in 2005 there were a total of 2,120 parades, and last year there were 4,637.

He also found that two-thirds of the parades in 2013 were loyalist and that the number of marching bands is now at its highest ever level, with 660 currently registered.

Dr Nolan told the BBC: “The problem is there are two narratives going on. One that nationalists are winning and the other that loyalists are losing.

“But loyalist culture, in terms of parades and bands, has never been stronger.”

Orange Order chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson agreed that there has been an increase in band parades.

“It is a healthy development that more people are getting involved in the musical traditional within the unionist tradition. It is good to see,” he told the News Letter.

“But I don’t think we are paranoid to say that the Union Flag has been removed from Belfast City Hall, that parades are being restricted on the whim of Sinn Fein, or that councils west of the Bann do not even fly the Union Flag on designated days.

“So there are issues with the lack of respect and toleration of unionist culture and identity and these have to be addressed.”

Stuart Bradshaw, of the Upper Falls Protestant Boys’ band in the Suffolk area of Belfast, said: “When I hear people say we shouldn’t be marching through nationalist areas, shoving our culture down their throats, I agree with them.

“But this is a nationalist area and we had 42 bands in our competition this year and there was not one bit of trouble. There never has been trouble.

“And yet there is no way in or out of this estate without passing through a nationalist area.”