Rioting erupted in ‘nationalist areas’ across the North on Tuesday after the annual Orange Order parades. The worst of the trouble was in Ardoyne in North Belfast which left 16 police officers injured and with over 60 lethal plastic bullets fired leaving many people injured. WSM member ‘John Creagh’ reports from the Ardoyne on the disturbances and what they tell us.
The official line echoed by the usual suspects in the establishment and media is of ‘thugs’ and ‘hooligans’ going on the rampage in Ardoyne but beneath the surface you find a different story, a story which does not fit in with the image of ‘normality’ being presented by those who benefit from the status-quo.
Rather than being a distraction from the wider class war being inflicted on working people in the form of mass unemployment and cut backs by those in power, this latest round of ‘sectarian rioting’ is a voice from the voiceless who have nothing to lose and who benefited least from the peace process. Hopelessness, lack of poverty and social deprivation is a symptom of a state and social order which rests on violence and on protecting the interests of the rich.
In recent years this particular parade, along a contentious section of the Crumlin Road in North Belfast, has replaced Drumcree as the new flashpoint. It is overwhelmingly opposed by one section of local residents who live in the immediate area. It is indicative of the sectarian and reactive nature of the Orange Order that it still continues to insist that they march along this section of the road despite their being an alternative route. Ardoyne, like many working-class communities across the North has been at the coal-face of interface sectarianism, state repression and the grip of armed conflict.
It was clear from the beginning of the day that violence was inevitable at the end of the march, coming on the backdrop of the Short Strand riots and disturbances in other parts of the city. The media reportage and military style operation by the paramilitary PSNI as well as a clear desire by some section of the protestors to go beyond state sanctioned protest all contributed to the eventual clashes.
I was unable to check out the protest organised by Sinn Fein inspired residents group CARA (Crumlin Ardoyne Residents) due to the police lines and the fact that it was invite only. Besides I had really no desire to join that one and instead joined the protest march for Civil Rights organised by GARC (Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective) which is more independent, open to all republican groups and was willing to use more militant and confrontational tactics to prevent the march
This march reached Brompton Park at about 7.30pm and by this stage the protest was several hundred strong. It was addressed by Dee Fennell of GARC who outlined the reasons for opposition to the parade and in advance blamed any violence on the PSNI and Orange Order. He then thanked everyone for attending and asked people to disperse peacefully. By this stage water cannon was in place along with lines of riot cops.
As many choose not to disperse it was clearly a wait and see approach before it kicked off as such. As usual, it only took a few stones and water cannon to be used before several hours of sustained rioting erupted. Police lines came under attack at two entries into Ardoyne and soon the police who took up position on the rooftops of Ardoyne shops had to withdraw under a barrage of missiles. It did not take long until the first petrol bombs were thrown and hijacked car to be burned close to police lines. The crowd bust into applaud and chants of “SS-RUC” erupted.
Beer bottles were being opened just as quickly as the Molotov cocktails, bricks and bottles were raining down on police lines and at times felt like a party and social gathering. I got talking to ex-workmates and friends I have not seen in years, and many had travelled from across Belfast and further a field such as ‘revolutionary tourists’ from Spain, Italy and Sweden. I was left wandering ‘where is the revolution in this God forsaken land?’ They were left wandering what they hell they were doing here when those rolling a burning car lost control and everyone basically had to run for their lives.
The rioters were mixture of those seeking a bit of fun or ‘recreational rioting’ as the media like to call it, to a whole other spectrum of those motivated by class grievances, sectarianism, those who simply wanted a dig at the cops all the way to died in the wool militant republicans. All these various tendencies were stirred into the pot and with the Orange Order march acting as agent provocateur these were the conditions that created an explosion in anger and hatred towards all forms of authority. There were various shades of republicanism trying to exert control and influence but the spontaneous nature of the rioting largely had taken its own dynamic and became a voice of the voiceless.
The policing operation was largely successful, managing to limit casualties on their side and ensuring the march succeeded. Indeed rioting has been worse in previous years but the PSNI still had in place armed response units just in case. Despite a brief surge from the rioters, the water cannon and use of plastic bullets enabled the police to contain the rioting to small narrow laneways for most of the evening. I did witness many trigger happy cops shooting people of all ages, including a photographer, who is currently making a formal complaint to the police ombudsman.
The violence sends a message that all is not well in the wee North and that the Orange Order parade is not welcome in Ardoyne but at the expense of the local community who are left to pick up the pieces. The danger is that violent resistance becomes a ‘spectable’, an end in itself with no purpose or objective.
Like the Provos long before who were swayed by the lure of power and eventually exchanged their armalites for seats at their masters table, it is the various shades of republicanism which benefit from a new flow of young recruits, street fighters experienced in rioting and taking on the police.
In the short-term the latest rioting across the North this summer only further entrenches our communities along traditional loyalties and is harmful towards building up independent politics of working-class direct action and revolutionary class struggle anarchism. Nevertheless as an anarchist I felt it is important that we show are solidarity and support to the people of Ardoyne. The challenge for anarchists is to channel this growing anger and disenchantment with the status-quo along no-sectarian lines against our real enemies, the politicians and Rupert Murdoch’s of this world.