11 Jul 2014

Garth Brooks and Orange Order in Irish crises

Twin crises are playing out either side of the Irish border: one of identity the other credibility. Brian Whelan looks at how Garth Brooks and the Orange Order could bring the island to a standstill.

For the second time this year the US has been asked to step in to resolve an Irish political crisis.

In the north, former US diplomat Richard Haass held talks to secure the future of the peace process that ended in deadlock six months ago.

In the Republic, Barack Obama has this week declined to intervene in a spat with Garth Brooks over a cancelled five-night stadium concert.

Both sides of the border small community groups have asserted themselves to say “no more”.

In Ardoyne, a collective of residents opposing the Orange Order 12 July parade, and in north Dublin, residents fed up with huge concerts on their doorstep.

Marching orders

In Belfast the problem must be taken seriously. The ruling DUP has walked out of Stormont and signed a statement along with hardline loyalists, voicing their outrage at a Parades Commission decision to prevent the Orange Order from returning past Ardoyne shops this year.

Last year violent scenes played out on the streets when the 12 July parade was stopped from returning through the area, and loyalists launched their own “civil rights camp” at Twaddell with nightly marches demanding their right to finish the parade.

Read: Northern Ireland - compromise and the fight to be heard

This Saturday they will mark 365 nights of protest marches and the Orange Order still prevented from passing Ardoyne shops.

Despite calls for calm from senior Loyalists, a violent stand-off is anticipated by police. Nationalist Ardoyne residents organised through the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective say they want the Orangemen to take an alternative route to avoid prevent nationalist residents being “offended, harassed or intimidated”.

This all plays out against the backdrop of a loyalist community that feels increasingly sidelined and powerless, lashing out with flag protests and new political formations.

Racist attacks

Despite the peaceful and PR friendly camp at Twaddell, in east Belfast a series of racist attacks linked to the UVF has shown the nasty masked face of loyalism has not gone away.

A KKK flag was flown over the area and foreigners have been put out of their homes. As racist violence again gains traction in the region, community leaders have come out against the acts but currently seem unable to stop them.

The Protestant Coalition, formed to give leadership to the flags protests, was revealed to be led by Jim Dowson, the man Channel 4 News recently identified as the BNP’s former financier and mastermind of the mosque-invading Britain First group.

In the growth of racist attacks and violent Loyalist outburts, the first point of appeal for many in the region is to the damage that will be done to tourism and industry.

These abstract appeals are unlikely to find much sympathy in communities that feel left behind by both.

Don’t give a Brooks

By comparison the crisis in the south is a political farce, with a political reaction out of all proportion to events.

Garth Brooks initially announced a single concert at Croke Park, a Gaelic athetics stadium, which immediately sold out – prompting the additional of more nights, until an estimated 400,000 tickets were sold.

Read: Was Belfast flag riot part of a loyalist backlash?

In context, 400,000 is not far off 10 per cent of the population of the republic and is also the number of people who have emigrated since Ireland’s economy tanked in 2008.

Many buying tickets will be Garth Brooks fans, others bandwagon-jumpers and people who feel they don’t want to miss out if everyone else is going.

But reports also suggest many tickets were bought up by speculators to sell on at a later date, a crude mirroring of the property boom that brought the nation’s economy to a halt.

When Dublin city council backed local residents suggesting he perform for just three nights, Garth Brooks offered an all-or-nothing deal.

Despite a futile plea to the White House for mediation, the situation remains unresolved.

Political footballs

The spat has enjoyed endless media coverage, the Taoiseach (PM) has intervened, and the story has made it as far afield as BBC Radio 4 and Fox News.

Here too politicians warn of the damage to tourism and the economy that will come if the 400,000 do not get their way.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has even taken to the airwaves singing his favourite Garth Brooks song. But looking north, he notes that there are now over 3,000 loyalist parades annually but fewer than 200 nationalist parades, “none of which is contentious”.

Both communities – in north Dublin and north Belfast – now face being used as political footballs, chastised for spoiling someone else’s day out. They face uncompromising all or nothing demands in negotiations, where compromise is unthinkable.

Fundamentally the demands of both commuities are the same: some sovereignty to decide when thousands of people can march their streets while making a lot of noise.