The Blanket

Frances McAuley - Resisting The Loyal Sons Of Hate

Anthony McIntyre • 4/8/2002

Frances McAuley is a lively and articulate woman. She arrived for the interview with The Blanket bubbling with a seemingly irrepressible energy despite carrying an injury sustained after being attacked by the Continuity RUC on the Springfield Road as she protested alongside fellow residents against orange marches in the area. She hastily points out that she was only one of 46 residents who were injured as a result of beatings and plastic bullets.

Laura Friel, a republican writer, itemised some of the day’s activities:

An eleven-year-old schoolgirl was taken to Grosvenor Road barracks and was illegally questioned and forcibly fingerprinted despite the fact that she was a minor. A clearly pregnant woman, who pleaded for the safety of her unborn child, was deliberately batoned in the stomach by the PSNI/RUC and had to be rushed to hospital. A Catholic man was beaten, thrown into a jeep by the PSNI, driven to a loyalist area where he feared he might be handed over to a loyalist mob, before being released without charge.

Frances heads the Springfield Residents Action Group which was formed in 1996. A grandmother, she claims there are many things she would like to do with her life other than lead community resistance to rampant bigotry. She has experienced it for years and historicises matters by referring back to 1970 when orange marches along the Springfield Road led to serious rioting in Ballymurphy. British Army wreck and raid operations ensured Ballymurphy would become one of the most fertile recruiting grounds for the Provisional IRA, producing some of the organisation’s most accomplished volunteers.

In the view of local people, the sheer scale of the military operation rivalled that at Drumcree. But the link to Drumcree does not end there. The march along Springfield Road has assumed a new importance for the bigots because of the long drawn out defeat the Orange Order is suffering at Drumcree. Where once they assembled behind the fool on the hill, Harold Gracey, to celebrate the victories of centuries ago they now return to the same spot every year to commemorate the defeat of a year previous. Like a big orange dinosaur being perpetually squeezed out of its ‘natural’ habitat and subsequently forced to live on a low calorie diet of Fenian rights, it is determined to devour those rights where it can and cling tenaciously to what remains of its feeding grounds. The Springfield Road is one of them.

Suggestions by unionists that groups such as that which Frances works with are merely a front for the IRA or Sinn Fein are casually dismissed with a wave of the hand: ‘the community elect the group and those within it in turn elect me as their spokesperson'. As For Sinn Fein, 'it has been supportive in reviews and its members have taken part in white line pickets but it has not tried to orchestrate, control or manipulate us for its own ends. You have to remember just how many Sinn Fein people live in this area. They are obviously going to be involved. There would be something wrong if they were not.'

But is there not a fear that because Sinn Fein have been attending the cenotaph to lay wreaths in honour of the British military who died in World War One, that a similar gesture of ‘reaching out’ would result in the march being allowed down the road? Frances seemed unperturbed and stressed that the issue was local and would be dealt with by local people on the ground. The wider political context would have to account for local politics and concerns.

Every month SRAG - the neat acronym the groups goes by - trudges through the same weary procedure of sending the Orange Order a letter reiterating its call for dialogue as a means to solving the problem of contentious marches. But there is never reciprocation. If the loyal sons of Ulster - former prison staff and serving RIR soldiers among them - like kicking the RUC at Drumcree what chance of a courteous response to a ‘taig’? Despite that, is there not a case for allowing a negotiated march down once a year rather than go through the same tension ridden atmosphere every July which culminates in the inevitable RUC attack on nationalist residents? Frances looks at me as if I have not read the papers or followed events closely enough.

They can march 24/7 as far as we are concerned but they have to enter into dialogue if they want to march through communities like ours where clearly they are not wanted. What we oppose is their coat trailing and trampling over the rights of people. That is exactly what they have been doing. We have been seeking negotiation. Dialogue would increase understanding between the two communities. Without contentious marches the communities would live in greater harmony. We offered to allow the march this year if they agreed to halt them in future years but they simply didn’t want to know. This was a very difficult decision for us to reach but in the interests of peace we felt it was a worthwhile approach to make. Furthermore, up until last year as a means to reduce tension we attended cross community meetings in Forth Spring on the Springfield Road but we had to stop going because we were threatened.

To underline the strength of the opposition to the march Frances pointed to a survey conducted with 1200 residents around two years ago. Out of those surveyed 1180 households opposed the march. More houses have been constructed since then and the sense of opposition and growing resentment at the orange intrusion has not abated.

Frances argues that the Parades Commission is much at fault in the matter. There have been numerous submissions and representations made to it but to no avail. It is a 'toothless body'. Only last year because the one restriction imposed by the Commission was that no music be played as the bandsmen passed the nationalist enclave on the Springfield Road, the Orange Order threatened 'rivers of blood', causing Frances to feel that ‘old Enoch Powell had come back to life’. Powell it may be recalled had threatened rivers of blood in anticipation of British society becoming more multicultural in the 1960s. This year the Commission simply ‘did not want to know’ about any proposals that would allow the march contingent on it not taking place in future years. ‘The Parades Commission is treating us as if we are second class citizens.’ Frances is convinced that it is the orange use of the threat that ensures the march goes ahead. This year, she claims, the marchers were so confident that they could bully their way past the Commission that they didn't even bother filing for a march.

Snubbed by the Commission, taunted and hassled by the RUC, and treated with contempt by the Orange Order, SRAG broke off negotiations with the Commission and decided to withdraw stewards who would normally marshal nationalist protestors as the march passed by their homes. ‘Why should we police our own community to suit them? Those who want to march break every rule in the book, threaten people and talk to no one. So they have a winning formula.’

On the morning of the march a heavy and provocative RUC presence aggravated the young people of the area. Alan McQuillan’s statement claiming IRA preparations for a riot were underway in Ardoyne was viewed as a set up. Frances believes that McQuillan made that statement knowing that it would draw youth from the Springfield Road over to the Ardoyne which in turn would leave his riot teams a free run in the west of the city.

The atmosphere was unbelievable. On the 11th night the RUC came in. They had bright ribbons flying from their jeeps. They were pink rather than orange but we knew what they were at. Photographed or brought to book they would always claim that they were celebrating a colleague’s birthday or something equally as spurious. But it was to let us know they were merry because of our community being put under yet another siege. When the RUC attack came it was planned with military precision. It was brutal and it is a long time since I have seen such viciousness. I was attacked and beaten with batons and rammed with a shield. It reminded me of the film Zulu where they stood and banged their shields and were obviously looking to attack people who were defenceless. There is no way they could ever be reformed. The hatred goes too deep. They would have to be totally disbanded.

Given that nationalists are taking their seats on the new policing board and there is an expectation that Sinn Fein will soon claim their own as well, will there not be a growing momentum that would cripple the more repressive measures of the RUC? But Frances was unconvinced. ‘It will make no difference if Sinn Fein go on the policing board. They may try their best to change things but the RUC are too far gone. There is no difference between the PSNI and the RUC. It is the same people doing the same things - where is the change in that?’

So what does the future hold if the police are still the same, the issue has not been resolved and the nationalists are determined not to take it lying down? Frances McAuley breathes deeply and sighs. ‘There is real anger in the community. Where do we go from here? We have tried to work within the rules and have had our efforts rewarded by violence because those who break all the rules get their way each time. The kids have no future. The youth will be very angry next year.’

Hope springs eternal it seems except in those interface areas where residents have to put up with drum pounding bigots, reminding any who doubted it that in the North of Ireland no pessimist was ever proved wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Index: Current Articles

8 August 2002

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

Sectarianism
Billy Mitchell

 

Frances McAuley - Resisting the Loyal Sons of Hate

Anthony McIntyre

 

Intense Winters
Miguel Castells Artetxe

 

Modernising Republicanism
Davy Carlin

 

Another Death in Turkish Prison Hunger Strike

 

4 August 2002

 

Priorities

Davy Carlin

 

Sectarians For Peace?
Sean Smyth

 

Nuff Said
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

 

Saol Nua

Sean O'Lubaigh

 

Stake Knife Runs the Rafia
Brian Mór

 

The Death of Cú Chulainn
Brian Mór

 

SAS Stake Knife
Brian Mór

 

No Punishment Too Great

Anthony McIntyre

 

Foul Shots

Karen Cox

 

Insanity or Security?
John Chuckman

 

 

 

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