- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

Northern Ireland's Protestants have effectively declared war on themselves this marching season. Just weeks after Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble led the pro-British Unionists into a shared government which included the Catholic Sinn Fein, a faction of hard-liners is challenging the very heart of Protestant loyalism. Since the beginning of July, the Protestant Orange Order which makes a traditional march every year at this time has shut down traffic around major cities across Northern Ireland, attacked police officers, hijacked and burned cars and set off hundreds of petrol bombs. Which makes one wonder to which cause these militants think they are being loyal.

Prevented by the government-appointed parades commission from marching through Catholic neighborhoods for their annual parade, the Orangemen's violent response to the ruling betrays their own cause. Established in 1795 to keep alive the memory of William III and his victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, the order was supposed to honor the memory of the prince of Orange, who advocated tolerance to both faiths during his life. Now its departure from that tradition threatens the delicate peace process, which had made formidable progress since the Irish Republican Army (IRA) agreed to have its arms dumps inspected by international monitors.

As the Orangemen put away their marching costumes today, they must ask themselves what kind of memories they have given Northern Ireland this season. More than 50 police officers have been injured. Around 150 people have been arrested. There have been almost 300 petrol bombing incidents. Worst of all, they have created division within Protestant and British loyalist circles.

Those Protestants who would keep the peace have been called "traitors to their religion" by the Orange Order. Perhaps the Orange loyalists should take a moment to consider who is betraying whom. Loyalists are nominally fighting to uphold the name and symbols of the Northern Irish police force, known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Yet this week, they have thrown stones at that same force because it would protect the peace. They have condemned the violence of the IRA, yet they have jeopardized the lives of Northern Irish citizens through their own militancy. They have rebelled against the leadership of Mr. Trimble, who has helped introduce the loyalists to a new Northern Ireland with a government of its own.

They are only a small contingent of Protestants, but the Orange Order's violence threatens to stall the progress both sides were making in the Northern Irish government. If there is to be hope for a peaceful Ulster in the future, Orangemen cannot stay rooted in the hatred of the past.

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