Monday, June 25, 2007

Protest season

The Smithsonian Folklife festival begins later this week in Washington DC. One section is devoted to Northern Ireland (not Ulster). Perhaps inevitably, the selection of panelists has resulted in a row, although one which looks like it will blow over quickly. It concerns invitations to David Hume and Jonathan Mattison, historians from the Orange Order, although the Smithsonian is keen to note that the objections have originated from Catholic Irish-American groups and not from Northern Ireland itself.

The essential issue is whether the Orange Order is intrinsically an institution of bigotry. Its history and pronouncements don't make for encouraging reading in that regard but presumably the point of the peace process is to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and judge on future behaviour rather than historical patterns. The Smithsonian hasn't changed its lineup and it's likely that nothing more will be heard about the affair unless there's an actual row at one of the panels.

UPDATE: In an echo of the bitterness that mention of the Orange Order can produce, Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service today outlined the history of a weapon used to kill 5 Catholics in a betting shop; the gun was earlier surrendered to the police but then mysteriously came back in circulation among Loyalist paramilitaries when it was used for those murders. The murders were in turn were referenced in a "Five-Nil" chant by goons at an Orange Order parade past the site, an incident considered to be one of the early provocations in what was a fairly bleak marching season in the 1990s.

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