While our New Dispensation is supposed to be all about diversity and pluralism, it seems that the zeitgeist has not quite filtered through to the loyalist marching community. Belfast’s kick-the-pope bands are up in arms about Stormont MLA Anna Lo (Alliance, South Belfast), who made the mistake of not realising that loyalist bands have a god-given right to march wherever they like, to inconvenience whomever they like, and to be accountable to nobody.
The bare bones of the story are simple. A constituent wrote to Mrs Lo complaining that a loyalist parade had hemmed her into her house and prevented her getting to her nursing job. Mrs Lo forwarded the letter to band leader George Spence. Mr Spence then threw a wobbly, claiming that his security was put at risk by him being identified as a loyalist band leader. Maybe he should take this up with the local media who have been publicly identifying him as a loyalist band leader. Or consider whether leading a band that parades down the public highway might identify him as a band leader.
Mrs Lo then wrote to Mr Spence apologising for any offence she may have caused, which was nice of her – certainly nicer than I would have been. But Mr Spence is not mollified. You can guess what comes next – the loyalists are planning to have a march in protest at Anna Lo, and have applied for permission to mobilise 3000 marchers and 40 bands.
The Irish News reports that the parade route will pass two Catholic churches, but that’s par for the course. What is more interesting is that the march will go out of its way to proceed along Donegall Pass, home to a large slice of Belfast’s Chinese community and the area where the UDA put out their infamous “Yellow Invasion” leaflet a few years back. Mrs Lo says, “I feel this parade has deliberate racist overtones and has been designed to intimidate the Chinese community who live and work on Donegall Pass. This parade is having to make a major detour just to go through Donegall Pass. People feel it’s for no other reason than to show the Chinese community who’s boss.” And I think, given the history of the area, that’s a reasonable interpretation to put on things.
The loyalists, of course, deny this has anything to do with racism. A band spokesman is quoted as saying, “The fact that Anna Lo is Chinese is irrelevant to the issue at hand. Anna Lo’s introduction of the racist card into this issue is regrettable. The fact that she is Chinese does not, in the eyes of the band, impart any blame or responsibility for her foolishness on to the wider Chinese community.” The spokesman then underscores his commitment to diversity by adding, “Indeed, many of the bandsmen may on their way home enjoy a Chinese meal.” Indeed.
It is unfortunate for the image-conscious bandsmen, therefore, that their case has been taken up by those well-known champions of diversity, the BNP. Under the headline “Immigrant MLA puts local mans security in jeopard” (sic), the BNP website has quite a dig at Mrs Lo as a “foolhardy, illogical, pseudo-politician” and gripes about the “anti-British, anti-Protestant Parades Commission”. The fascists then go on to say about the forwarding of the original letter, “As our BNP colleagues on the mainland are familiar Royal Mail is littered with Anti British, foreign traitor sympathisers, we have a similar problem in Ulster and this problem could have potentially lethal consequences for Mr Spence.” By the way, I love their command of the Queen’s English.
I am perplexed as to how this forwarding of a letter may have endangered a band leader’s security. There may well have been some sectarian assassinations of loyalist band leaders during the Troubles, but they would be so far in the past that I honestly can’t remember any. These days, the main danger faced by a loyalist band member would be from members of a rival loyalist band. And I certainly don’t believe the Triads are on the case. Anyway, our nice pluralist loyalist bands might like to ponder the kind of people who are rushing to their defence.