Category Archives: Catholicism

orange disorder

orangiesiraq1.jpgorangiesiraq21.jpgLast Thursday was the twelfth of July (or The Twelfth if you are so inclined), the day that the Protestant Orange Order commemorates the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, in which (the Protestant) William of Orange defeated (the Catholic) King James II. It continues to be celebrated as the defeat of Catholic interests by Protestant ones. The pictures here are of British troops/members of the Orange Order in Basra holding one such commemoration (photos from From the Balcony).

Recently, the Orange Order has been trying to reinvent itself as a cultural association (see their recent participation in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival as an example of this), and no doubt the £100,000 grant from the British government last year to be more inclusive is being spent to this end:

The authorities, who have just put up £100,000 so the Order can appoint a development officer. His job will be “to promote ‘Orangefest’ as a fully inclusive, family friendly event, improve community relations, promote Belfast in a positive light, and encourage visitors to watch the parade”.

The government explained: “It is disappointing that during the marching season the city centre and some of the main arterial routes either close down or are abandoned by those who do not feel comfortable with the parades. The time is right to see whether the Orange Order can achieve a broader understanding and acceptance of Orange culture and tradition across the community.”

Keep in mind that as late as 2005, the Orange Order was marching through Ardoyne in north Belfast with some marchers dressed as Catholic schoolgirls in an effort to mock the events that occurred a few years prior, in which loyalists blocked school children from attending the Holy Cross Primary School, verbally assaulting them along the way (and in some cases throwing rocks, bags of urine and blast bombs).

Things may be changing quickly in the north of Ireland since the restoration of the institutions, but these recent attempts at whitewashing the Order’s past are just not going to fly. Here are some more recent accounts of this year’s Twelfth celebrations…

bbc1.jpgThis picture here is an example of the size of a typical loyalist bonfire. Think about what this would look like when lit, with crowds of people drunk and partying at its base. Now, read this:

A Catholic family have been left devastated by a cruel taunt by loyalists who daubed the name of their dead son on carpet and placed it on the top of a bonfire just hours before it was to be set alight.

Peter Neill said he felt physically sick when he saw the name of his 16-year-old son Aaron written in five feet high letters on carpet attached to the Harper’s Hill bonfire in Coleraine.

The father, who is in mourning after losing his son just two weeks ago, had to remove the carpet himself after he said police refused to do so.
Aaron died in his sleep from a suspected heart attack.

Mr Neill said he is now living under a death threat after police later informed him that loyalists saw him remove the item from the bonfire.

He said that up to five police Land Rovers had to be sent to his house in The Heights estate in Coleraine after dozens of loyalists were reported to be preparing to attack his home.

The father-of-three said his wife Philomena has been so disturbed by the incident he fears she will end up in hospital.

Their other children, aged 21, 12 and nine, have had to be placed in hiding.

Mr. Neill was put under death threat by loyalists for removing his recently deceased son’s name from a bonfire. This, apparently was not the work of young kids fooling around, but grown men involved with the UDA and UVF. This is not an isolated incident either–Michael McIlveen’s name was also placed atop a bonfire last year (Michael was 15 when he was beaten to death in May 2006 by a gang in Ballymena for being Catholic); names and posters of Sinn Féin and SDLP politicians are commonly placed on these bonfires as well.

For a last glimpse into the world of the Twelfth celebrations, I’ll leave you with this recent article in the Sunday Business Post by Colm Heatley:

Orange disorder

Davy was looking forward to the Twelfth celebrations on the Shankill last week, especially the eleventh night bonfire. Davy is not an Orangeman, but ‘‘I suppose I’d be a loyalist supporter,” he said.

It wasn’t politics that had him excited last week, however – it was the opportunity to make some easy money.

‘‘This is one of the biggest nights of the year for me. In fact, after New Year’s Eve, it’s probably the biggest. I’ll be busy all night; it’ll pay for me and the missus to go to Ayia Napa in August,” he said.

Davy sells drugs, mainly ecstasy and speed, and he had a ready market among the hundreds of young – and not so young – who gathered at the huge bonfire on the Shankill Road. He didn’t have to worry about the police. They keep their distance. And the paramilitaries wouldn’t interfere either; they ‘‘tax’’ him on what he sells.

For many Protestants in the North, especially in working class areas, that is how the Twelfth celebrations begin. The biggest cheer of the night is normally reserved for the UVF and UDA, groups involved in wholesale drug dealing and crime.

When the huge fires are lit often burning tyres and other toxic materials – tricolours are burned. Slogans such as KAT (Kill All Taigs) are often daubed on the tricolours. In 2005, one bonfire trumpeted the suicides of several young men in the nationalist Ardoyne estate.

This year, GAA shirts were put on top of the bonfires too. Chris McGimpsey, a Shankill Road Ulster Unionist councillor who is regarded as a moderate, said last week that the GAA should look at why Protestants see it as sectarian.

With the power-sharing deal in place in the North, many people are now asking what the future of the Twelfth should be, and are looking to the 50,000-strong Orange Order to take the lead. The question is whether an inherently sectarian and triumphalist celebration which for decades has been the most vivid display of unionist dominance over Catholics – can be re-moulded in a post-Troubles, power-sharing North?

In simple financial terms, the Twelfth has been a disaster for the North since the mid1990s. Disputes around the marching season almost singlehandedly crippled the region’s tourist industry, which was expected to take off after the ceasefires.

Instead, the fortnight around July 12 became the time of the year when local hoteliers took their holidays. Much of the heat has now gone out of the marching season, and the mass protests appear to be a thing of the past, but shops, bars and restaurants still close on the Twelfth.

The Orange Order is trying to promote the Twelfth as Orange Fest, a tourist attraction for the North.

But it is questionable whether this can ever succeed, especially when no alternative ways of celebrating the occasion have emerged, aside from a firework display.

More fundamentally, the Twelfth marches have a deep sectarian symbolism and, unless Orangeism’s relationship with the state changes, the parades will always have the potential for violence and menace.

David Scott, the education officer of the Orange Order, is responsible for finding ways to promote the ‘new face’ of the organisation.

‘‘There is a lot of good work going on with the Orange Order and the community which people don’t see,” he said. ‘‘We are going out to schools and interacting with young people. We have the Williamite display on, which is attracting a lot of interest from tourists.”

However, Scott’s definition of ‘the community’ does not include Catholics, and he said the ban on Catholics joining the Orange Order would not be removed. The group has about 50,000 members, the vast majority of whom are male.

While the Orange Order enjoyed a surge in applications for membership during the stand-offs over marches at Drumcree, anecdotal evidence suggests that its membership has slipped in recent times. The group last week found itself criticised over the practice of building up huge, environmentallyunfriendly bonfires in urban areas.

Thousands of car tyres were burned last week, along with other hazardous materials, leading to calls – even from some unionists – to stop the practice.

In a pointer to how things may go in the future, the village of Stoneyford, a few miles outside Belfast, had a beacon instead of a bonfire.

The key mover in that plan was, somewhat surprisingly, Mark Harbinson, an ‘ultraloyalist’ who in recent years, led loyalist bands around a newly-built, mixed-religion housing development in the village.

‘‘I’ve been pushing this for two years,” he said. ‘‘There has been opposition to it, but people have started to see the benefits of having a type of bonfire which is clean and doesn’t leave the town with a big mess to clean up after. It also makes it more accessible for families.”

That theme of families was picked up on by Dawson Bailie, the leader of the Orange Order in Belfast.

‘‘We want to get back to what the Twelfth was before the Troubles, when families would come along and Catholics would as well,” he said.

Ironically, if unionists do want to change the Twelfth, they may find themselves following the example of republicans who, almost 20 years ago, ended the practice of burning bonfires to commemorate the introduction of internment on August 9.

Throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s, republican bonfires became flashpoints for rioting, and Catholic communities were left with dirt and rubble from the fires.

In 1988, the west Belfast festival, Feile an Phobail, was introduced as a replacement.

Since then, it, and other such festivals in republican areas, have established themselves as part of the summer calendar in the North.

The festivals feature music, debates between unionists and nationalists, workshops on politics and literature, and debates about global events and Irish history.

A few years ago at the festival, Jeffrey Donaldson, the arch-unionist sceptic, talked directly to Seanna Walsh, the IRA man who announced the formal ending of the group’s campaign in 2005.

Guest speakers in the past have included the US documentary film-maker Michael Moore. Whether unionism and the Orange Order in particular – can envisage the Twelfth broadening out in such a fashion remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Davy reckons he has made about stg£700 for his night’s work, and the people of the Shankill are left with the charred remains of the bonfires.

Altogether, the night cost the taxpayers in the North stg£1 million in clean-up, medical, and police bills.

The socially-deprived communities of the area celebrate their ‘dominance’ over Catholics by spending the Twelfth marching onward with their leaders in the Orange Order.

Those leaders seem to be more comfortable dealing with the past than the realities of life in the North today.


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Filed under belfast, British army, Catholicism, Iraq, ireland, Irish peace process, Orange Order, UVF

The Irish pizza process

dominos1.jpgThis morning I attended Domino’s Pizza’s annual shareholder’s meeting at their corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor. I was there on behalf of the New York City pension funds to introduce a resolution calling on the company to implement the MacBride Principles at its franchises in the north of Ireland. The equal opportunity principles were written by Nobel peace laureate and Amnesty International founder Seán MacBride to promote non-discrimination in employment in the north of Ireland.

The Wikipedia entry linked to above provides a fairly detailed description of the principles and the US campaign to sign up companies to abide by the standards (which are necessarily accompanied by an independent monitoring system). The MacBride Principles were signed into federal law by President Clinton in 1998; all recipients of US contributions to the International Fund for Ireland must comply with the principles. The current focus of the campaign is to pressure American companies with operations in the north to adopt these principles and put them into practice. (Hence my appearance at today’s meeting.) Over the last 18 years, 88 major US/Canadian companies–2/3 of all with investments in the north–have agreed to implement the principles.

This is the first year that Domino’s has been approached about this. I was present as a representative of NYC because in order to introduce a resolution someone must be physically present. It was also my first ever shareholder’s meeting (I don’t own shares in anything) so I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect for it to be so short and sweet, however–the whole thing was ridiculously formal and only lasted about 20 minutes total. The shareholders (all 5-7 of us) were escorted through the lobby, past the Domino’s race car and the Domino’s dots furniture into a small meeting room.

The principles did not get the majority vote necessary to be adopted, but this was expected. Most/all of the voting takes place before the actual meeting (shareholders can mail in their votes, and I imagine that many do not vote at all) and the tally is reported there. Our goal was simply to get the necessary 3% of the vote in order to be able to bring the resolution back next year. In most cases, once a company realizes that you are going to continue to press the issue, negotiations are made during the course of the year. Many of the companies that have already adopted the MacBride Principles have done so within the first couple of years; some have taken over a decade.

I was proud to be able to be there to represent the principles, which I take very seriously.

It was almost worth it just to go to see the framed, glossy photographs of pizzas that decorated the walls, especially the close-up shot of the piece of pepperoni with warm, stringy cheese hanging from it. My favorite, though, was definitely the portrait of the Indian delivery man handing another man a pizza right in front of the Taj Mahal. Priceless.

There were no surprises. The only other person who spoke was a representative from PETA, there to ask a question about whether Domino’s might be willing to follow the example of Burger King and McDonald’s and pressure their suppliers to adopt humane animal welfare standards and practices at their slaughterhouses. They’re not interested.

And for those of you who might be curious, Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan was not there, nor were the blond, female bodyguards he apparently exclusively employs. Not being from Michigan myself, I don’t know much about him other than that he is notoriously right-wing. I did a bit of internet research on him to see if he might be someone that would support something like the MacBride Principles.

How does Domino’s stand on the issue of equality?

The 2005 Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index gave Domino’s a score of 57 out of 100, up 7 points from 2004 because they added an LGBT-inclusive diversity council. However, as In Between the Lines reported:

While Domino’s does not directly contribute to anti-gay activity, founder Tom Monaghan has contributed heavily to initiatives and organizations that oppose the rights of LGBTs. He is a co-founder of the Thomas More Law Center, which is advocating in court to restrict access to domestic partner benefits under Proposal 2, and in 2001 financed a ballot proposal in Ypsilanti to remove sexual orientation from that city’s non-discrimination ordinance.

David Brandon, the current CEO who officiated today’s meeting opposes gay marriage and also sits on the University of Michigan Board of Regents.

I’ll close here with a quote from Monaghan, who has moved Ave Maria, the Catholic university he founded near Ann Arbor, to Florida where he is currently building the town of Ava Maria surrounding the school:

As far back as 2004, Monaghan told an audience that he and his partners would “own all commercial real estate” and thus “will be able to control what goes on there. You won’t be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria town. We’re going to control the cable television that comes in the area…. If you go to the drugstore and you want to buy the (birth control) pill or the condoms or contraception, you won’t be able to get that in Ave Maria town.”

He has since retracted the statement, but you get the idea.


Filed under Catholicism, Irish peace process, MacBride Principles, pizza

Detroit’s Bishop Gumbleton replaced

bishopg.jpgAn article in the New York Times last week reports that Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit will be replaced due to what he believes to be retaliation from the Catholic church over his recent support for survivors of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. Gumbleton also openly supports the acceptance of homosexuality, the ordination of women, and is a dedicated anti-war/peace activist–views which have certainly not made him popular in the eyes of the Church.

The picture I have posted here is of Gumbleton doing court support for Ireland’s Pitstop Ploughshares. I interviewed Gumbleton in Detroit last year for Critical Moment, and he reflected on his use of Catholicism as a tool of liberation, the war in Iraq, and the closing of 18 of Detroit’s Catholic schools. I found Gumbleton to be a warm, fascinating man–certainly unlike any priest I had ever come into contact with in my Catholic upbringing. After coming out of that meeting, I found myself thinking (albeit briefly) about what it would have been like to have been exposed to such examples of leadership in the Catholic church when I was young. Would I still have rebelled against my father and stopped going to Church at a young age? Well, probably (okay, yes!). Though organized religion is not for me, I can’t help wishing that there were more people out there like Gumbleton in the religious world, using their faith in and dedication to humanity to liberate rather than opress, and to inspire others to make the world a better place.

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Filed under Catholicism, Detroit, Iraq