'Statistics show how Ulster Parades keep Marching on', by Jarman & Bryan
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Belfast Telegraph 14.8.1996
Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan
Another marching season nears an end.
More tense then many, it has left some communities as divided
as ever. And how is it all seen from outside? That we are trapped
in our history, that nothing ever changes, its just the same old
'traditional' confrontation. But how true is this? Some simple
figures suggest the situation is more complex.
Statistics collected by the RUC since
1985 show that the number of parades has increased quite considerably.
In 1995 there were 2581 parades categorised as 'loyalist' and
302 as 'nationalist', giving a total of 2883. The total of 3500
quoted in some of the press includes 617 parades given a category
of 'other' which covers events such as the Lord Mayor's parade,
and parades by youth organisations.
These figures make an interesting comparison
with 1986 when there were 1731 'loyalist' parades and 219 'nationalist'
parades (although at the time they were categorised as 'Republican').
As such, in 1995 there were 684 more loyalist parades than ten
years earlier, and 79 more nationalist parades.
A comparison between the 1986 figures
and 1994 figures shows a gross increase in the number of parades
of 43%, quoted in the Belfast Telegraph on Monday. If we
include the 1995 figures the gross increase since 1986 is nearly
48%. Between 1986 and 1995 loyalist parades increased by just
over 49% and nationalist parades by just under 38%. Whilst some
years show a particularly big jump, for instance 1990 the tercentenary
of the Battle of the Boyne, there does appear to be a long term
So the figures show that there are more
loyalist parades than there used to be, and also that the proportion
of loyalist parades as opposed to nationalist parades has increased.
What can be read into this?
We must first question the reliability
of the figures. Collecting statistics such as these is not an
easy task and one cannot assume the figures to be totally reliable.
For instance it is not easy to define a parade. It has been noted
that already this year that the loyal orders count a parade up
the street and then a return parade as one event. However, the
residents groups count it as two. It is quite possible that in
different police districts the actual accounting of parades has
not remained the same. There is no conspiracy involved. In many
towns in Northern Ireland the number of parades is not a great
Nevertheless there has been quite a
consistent rise in the numbers, suggesting that it is something
more than simply a data collection issue. So where and when are
the extra parades and why are they taking place? One possible
answer is the well recognised increase in the number of band parades.
Most loyalist flute bands are quite independent from the loyal
institutions and there has been a distinctive development of what
are known as 'blood and thunder', or 'kick the Pope' bands. Many
run an annual band competition in their own area to try and raise
money for new uniforms and instruments. These band parades may
well account for some of the increase.
However, figures supplied by the RUC
Statistics Unit point to another possibility. The number of parades
on the Twelfth itself seem to have risen. In 1990 there were 361
parades, 1991 - 386, 1992 - 429, 1993 - 389, 1994 - 463, and in
1995 there were 547. The majority of these parades are feeder
parades which take place before and after the main parades. In
1995 over 21% of the annual total of loyalist parades took place
on the Twelfth.
The number of parades in a particular
area is likely to vary depending upon the venue for the Twelfth.
Even taking this into account there would seem to be an increase
in the number of feeder parades. While we have to speculate a
little as to why there is an increase in the number of parades,
it does suggest that to see parades simply in terms of 'tradition'
is misleading. The political environment in which these cultural
expressions take place is clearly important. There seems to be
a contradiction. Unionist politicians claim that loyalists 'traditions'
are under threat yet loyalists' parading culture seems more vibrant
How might we explain this apparent contradiction?
First of all, political expression that takes place through parades
is a reflection of a perceived threat. Since the 1970s many of
the bands take up names and symbols that suggest that they are
'defenders' of their community.
It has been argued by many people that
the two communities behave as they do because they are both minorities:
Catholics in Northern Ireland and Protestants on the island of
Ireland Consequently the cultural expressions of both communities
are intensified. Uncertainty and change in the present are reflected
in claims of 'tradition'.
A second possibility is that the break-up
of unionism has led to more localised expressions of politics.
The large Twelfth parade with its Ulster Unionist speaker no longer
reflects the politics of a lot of Orangemen. They identify more
closely with the politics of their local town and local council
and this is reflected in having more local parades.
Whatever the reasons it is clear that
public, political, expression is a problem. Any overall solution
has to tackle this problem. It has to balance the right of political
expression, with the right not to feel threatened. At the very
least that will demand much more respect and much more tolerance.
Total number of parades in Northern Ireland between 1985-95
Figures taken from The Chief Constable's
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