Demonising Orange culture has fuelled attacks by youths

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The chief constable’s apology to Orangemen in Belfast for failing to protect them from a republican attack on July 12 2013 helps to shine a light on what has been happening to Protestants in some parts of Northern Ireland for decades.

The public perception is often of Loyal Order bigots and hard-pressed nationalist residents, hemmed in their homes.

The truth is often the opposite. Republican intolerance, fuelled by decades of self-pitying propaganda, has emboldened young people to think that it is morally acceptable to attack these Protestant monsters of myth.

The Short Strand, where this particular attack on Orangemen happened, is a case study in such trouble.

In 2002, the isolated, vulnerable residents of Cluan Place came under sustained and orchestrated attack from republican factions in the nationalist enclave.

Also that summer, a physical barrier was erected on Madrid Street, which runs between the Protestant and Catholic sides of the divide. That barrier was depicted by the authorities (who seem reluctant ever to blame nationalists for anything) as a bid to keep both sides apart.

But the population on the Protestant side of the Short Strand interface has been declining for decades, and the smattering of residents (many elderly) was vulnerable to Catholic youths.

Residents of the Short Strand claimed their homes also came under attack from loyalists in the 2013 incident. They claimed the same through the summer of 2002, when republicans (presumably to divert attention from their culpability in the problems at Stormont) orchestrated attacks.

It is true that loyalists have retaliated many times, and that by late 2002 many Short Strand homes were badly damaged.

But there is a wider problem, which republicans have created (albeit to some extent inadvertently) and which more moderate nationalists have done little to dispel, of demonising Orange culture, and thus resulting in attacks on Protestants by young Catholics.