Surrounded by stewards and then by police, the Crossmaglen Patriots Republican Flute Band from Wishaw played for almost two hours as they marched. Today has been absolutely fantastic, said David Weir, a central leader of the band at a celebratory social that evening. Nobody can turn round now and say we cant march on our streets! Im so proud of every one of youlets leave with our heads held high.
Were entitled to march the same as them, said Lorna Slavin, a hospital cleaner who was taking part in her first march. Them referred to the pro-British, anti-Catholic Orange Order and associated bands who frequently hold marches in Wishaw, including in Craigneuk, a predominantly Catholic area.
The successful parade scored a victory in the fight by those of Irish origin in Scotland for full equality and the right to publicly assert their political identification with the struggle for a united Ireland. Following mass migration to Scotlands central belt in the wake of the great Irish famine of the 1840s, bosses were able to institute a caste-like system of job discrimination. More highly skilled, better paid jobs were reserved for Protestant workers.
We originally applied to march, with all the seven bands in the West of Scotland Republican Bands Alliance, last September, said Weir, a roofer. We didnt expect any problemsthe other Republican bands hold local parades. But the council raised nine objections to the route.
The January marchcalled to commemorate the 31st anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the day on which the British Army shot and killed 14 unarmed civil rights demonstrators in Derry, Irelandwas banned at the last minute after police claimed they had received a threat of significant disorder. This time we were called to a meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Friday night, continued Weir. The police said again that they had information that big trouble was planned from both sides. I told them we have the right to march the same as anyone else, and that we could guarantee there would be no trouble from the band. After an hour and a half, councillors took a closed vote and gave the go-ahead. I think it was because we told them that if they banned this march we would just apply again.
Cops were out in force on the day of the event, deploying seven divisions partly in riot gear, two vans of dogs, 10 police on horses, and two ambulances. Theyre trying to make us look like were something dangerous, one demonstrator commented.
The declining strength of Unionism in Ireland, and consequently Scotland, was reflected in the organized opposition to the march. There was one protest of about 30 loyalists (those loyal to the union of Britain with Northern Ireland) waving Union Jack flags with pictures of British monarch Elizabeth Windsor and shouting anti-Irish abuse. There were also a couple of small groups shouting and giving fascist salutes outside loyalist pubs.
The loyalists swore an oath that wed never walk down Main Street, said Padraig OCaisdie, a joiner who has a long association with Republican bands in Wishaw. This march today means everything to me.
We havent won yet, though, said Weir. We still want a parade with all seven bands going through Wishaw, and we wont be happy until we get that. And we will get it.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home