Arlene Foster of the DUP on her visit to Scotland.
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There were conflicting reports in the media as to when the incident actually happened, whether it was before or after the vigil Mass which begins each Saturday at 4.30pm.
Police Scotland’s spin doctors tried vainly to play the whole thing down.
It was not a lot really – nothing to see here, was the media briefing by Scotland’s finest.
Now, please move on was their ridiculous message.
A spokesperson said: “Police Scotland were made aware that a priest at the Barras was assaulted outside his church around 4.20pm this afternoon.
“The parade was passing the church at the time, however the assault was not believed to be carried out by someone taking part. Details have still to be confirmed.
“Inquiries into the assault, which we believe to be minor in nature, are at a very early stage.”
Spitting in the eye of a clergyman is something “minor in nature” then?
In truth, there was plenty to see, and this is not the first time this has happened in the East End of Glasgow.
Monsignor Peter Smith, then parish priest at St Alphonsus’ sister church, St Mary’s in Abercromby Street, found himself some years ago in a similar situation to Canon White. After it, Monsignor Smith called for a ban on all parades.
It was a call which had been made many times before and since but has always fallen on deaf ears and been kicked down the road.
Later, Mgr Smith, pictured right, described the attempted attack on him and the hisses of abuse aimed by the marchers at his parishioners.
He said: “If we are truly to incorporate tolerance, respect and diversity into the fabric of our society then we will first of all have to strip out the threads of bile, bigotry and boorishness.
“If that means hanging up the bowler hats and sashes for good, then it is a price worth paying.”
But those wearing the bowler hats and sashes, wearing military-style uniforms, playing the flutes and banging the Lambeg drums feel they are being unfairly labelled.
They believe that they are exercising historic rights and are not practitioners of Protestant tribalism, but simply celebrating their heritage.
Orangemen have been marching for centuries. It’s a tradition imported from Northern Ireland, which has found a controversial place on the streets of the west of Scotland.
This is the marching season, where the men, women and children of the Orange Order exercise their “civil and religious rights”.
Clark Fulston is an Orangeman who denies the Order provides a home for religious intolerance.
He said: “I personally haven’t come up against anyone in the I’ve been in the organisation that I could classify as a bigot. We think of the 12th of July as a celebration of our civil liberties
“As with every organisation, there are bad apples in the cart. We’re not perfect, we don’t claim to be perfect, but we’re trying to move in the right direction, so that we can make our membership more touchy, feely, friendly.”
He added: “We are not out there to be triumphalist. We are out there to celebrate our freedom.
“People see Orangeism and they think we don’t like you, people hate you and call you a bigot.
“But it is those people who are intolerant of us – we don’t do the shouting.”
Speaking at the County Grand Lodge of the East of Scotland’s Annual Boyne Demonstration, Ms Foster used William of Orange’s victory in 1690 as a lesson to modernise unionism.
“This country needs to be a shared place where people are able to live free from intolerance and hatred,” she said.
“Such bigotry was not part of King William’s mind-set and it should not be part of ours,” the DUP leader continued, before adding: “Nor directed towards us either,” in a possible reference to anti-Orange Order graffiti and posters that appeared in the Fife town overnight, including graffiti mocking the 66 victims of the Ibrox disaster in 1971.
Other speeches from the stage risked undermining Ms Foster’s calls for a more modern, tolerant Orange Order. One Orangeman referred to James Connolly, a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation and a leader of the Easter Rising, which led to Irish independence, as a “terrorist”, before shouting “No surrender”.
Another, wearing a sash and a chaplain’s collar, said: “There are many in this town who are not only enemies of this institution, but who are enemies of Christ.”
Fr Dominic, originally from London, has been in Scotland for a year. “I don’t understand. My dad’s from a Caribbean country, and there is no sectarianism there. There isn’t such a divide.”
Back in the field, several unofficial stalls sold loyalist and Rangers memorabilia, including a maroon T-shirt with the Parachute Regiment crest and the words “No apology. No surrender”, a reference to Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.
In Scotland, however, he saw no problems between Catholics and Protestants: “Scotland’s fine. It’s just a load of banter. Northern Ireland’s a different kettle of fish.”
Not everyone sees it as banter, and Ms Foster’s attendance placed pressure on organisers to ensure no scenes of drunkenness or sectarian singing.
More than 100 police officers lined the route as Orange lodges and 40 bands marched through the town for two hours.
One banner struck a very different tone. In a quiet act of protest, Cara Hopkins (28) hung a sheet painted with the words “Love not hate” from the balcony of her home as the march passed by.
“I feel angry. Really angry. Everyone has the right to protest and the right to march and express themselves. But it’s disrupting the whole town, and no one was consulted about it,” Ms Hopkins said.
“This will be portrayed by the media as loads of support for the Orange lodge. No, there’s loads of curious five-year-olds and tired mums who are bringing them out to look at the ‘pretty colours’. It’s not a fair representation.”
Following a Gaelic football event in the Republic and an LGBT event at Stormont, Ms Foster’s planned appearance in Scotland provoked intense interest.
A DUP spokesperson said: “It’s a much more routine event than it has been viewed. There’s no link or relationship between ourselves and the Orange institution, other than quite a number of DUP representatives are members at home, and there are quite strong links between Northern Ireland and Scotland.”
Professor Graham Walker of Queen’s University Belfast said Foster’s attendance could be read as an act of solidarity with Scottish unionists, or as a statement by the Orange Order of renewed political relevance – “The Orange Order want to say to people in Scotland: you’re not going to get rid of us. We’re a player. And here we have the leader of a political party who holds the balance of power at Westminster,” he said.
Prof Tom Devine of the University of Edinburgh said the Orange Order was an import from Ireland – “When Irish immigration started in the 1790s to Scotland, into the mid-19th century, about a quarter to a third of all Irish immigrants to Scotland…were actually Protestants rather than Catholic.”
The debate over Orange marches is nothing new. They have been controversial since they started over 200 years ago.
The historical figure of the organisation is King William of Orange.
He defeated a Catholic uprising in Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne on 12 July 1690 – ironically with the support of the then Pope.
But it was a century later before the organisation which takes his name was created.
There are about 50,000 Orangemen in Scotland
The Orange Order has its foundations in another Irish rebellion, this time in 1798, when Protestant and Catholics fought together with the French as the United Irishmen to drive the English out of Ireland.
Then, the Order was formed to defend Irish Protestants from Catholics.
Its lodges made their way across the Irish Sea, courtesy of Ulstermen migrating to Scotland to work in the Clyde shipyards and factories and ex-servicemen, bringing their new found principles home.
As the years passed the Orange Order became a popular haven for working class Protestant men.
In recent decades its influence has declined although Saturday’s figures for those marching and watching gives lie to this.
The Order now estimates its membership to be 50,000 in Scotland – almost all in Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and Lanarkshire.
Many complain that the parades bring with them loutish hangers-on.
According to some senior police officers, “the vast majority of marches are well organised and pass off peacefully”.
Retired Chief Superintendent Kevin Smith was in charge of over 120 parades in the east end of Glasgow.
He said: “If there is any trouble it’s from those who accompany the parades who drink and commit public order offences.”
Meanwhile, the people of Scotland were urged to consign bigotry “to the dustbin of history”.
In promising tough new laws to tackle sectarianism, First Minister Jack McConnell said everyone had a role to play.
He announced a raft of recommendations from a cross-party working group on religious hatred.
The proposals received a positive response though some were concerned by plans to create new laws.
McConnell claimed we had “moved a long way in the last 30 years”, but said new measures were “crucial”.
These plans included steps to improve the way offences are handled by the justice system and promote tolerance in Scotland’s communities.
One was the notorious Act which was scrapped just recently after widespread protests about police discrimination.
McConnell said: “Modern Scotland must challenge bigoted attitudes and bigoted behaviour wherever they are found.”
There was a need for better communication between police, the Crown Office, and football clubs.
Any new laws would deal with all crimes motivated by prejudice against other religions.
It was proposed that football supporters warned, suspended or banned from matches as a result of sectarian behaviour should be named and shamed.
The report suggested street traders should be licensed to prevent them selling paramilitary paraphernalia and that early kick-offs for matches between Celtic and Rangers should become normal practice.
It was also decided there was “a strong case for some form of legislation to ensure that aggravation based on religious prejudice is taken into account when sentencing”.
And that new laws should be accompanied by other measures to discourage religious hatred.
“We cannot have a situation where people are stabbing, or murdering, or causing violence on a Saturday night in Scotland simply as a result of other people’s religion,” the then FM said.
Asked if Orange Order marches should be banned, Mr McConnell fudged the issue.
He said it was important to differentiate between freedom of speech and religious hatred.
The FM ruled out scrapping separate Catholic schools and said religious diversity and tolerance were key in defeating bigotry.
“We have moved a long way in the last 30 years, but these final steps are crucial if we are to take our place in the modern world,” he added.
They haven’t moved at all, of course.
Scottish National Party justice spokeswoman at the time, Roseanna Cunningham, pictured left, said new legislation might be difficult to implement.
“Very real concerns have been raised by the police that new legislation would be unworkable,” she said.
She was proved to be correct.
Peter McLean, of anti-bigotry campaign group Nil By Mouth, set up after a young Celtic supporter was murdered by a man wielding a broken bottle after an Old Firm match, said plans to treat crimes motivated by religion in the same way as racial crimes sent out a “symbolic message”.
Vincent Smith, of the Glasgow Bar Association (a solicitors’ group), warned that there could be problems with the definition of sectarian behaviour.
Celtic said the club looked forward to studying the report’s recommendations and “working in partnership” to tackle the problem.
The Catholic Church was asked if the time was right now to scrap separated schools, a right which they won under the Education (Scotland) Act of 1918.
They confirmed their determination not to do so claiming their schools, which they are entitled to hold on to in perpetuity, were not part of the problem.
They did not comment further however when they were asked if they believed they helped the situation.
A spokeswoman for Rangers said: “The club is strongly opposed to inappropriate behaviour driven by sectarianism or racism.
“It takes action against all offenders drawn to our attention both within Ibrox and at away grounds.”
The Rev Alan McDonald, convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Nation Committee said: “The important thing to remember in all of this is the sharp end of sectarianism where people get hurt and where people die.”
The Catholic Church has had little or nothing to say apart from the fact that they are the victims.
Sectarianism is a sad, serious business which costs lives, damages friendships and splits families.
Since comedy is the nearest thing we have to tragedy, it is important, while wringing our hands in despair, to find humour in all this.
The best story I ever heard about the Marching Season and the Battle of the Boyne is this one:
A few hours after the battle in 1690, King William rides along the banks of the river on his white horse.
He looks down and sees his cousin, King James, sitting there despondent with his head in his hands.
“Worry not, James. Do not despair. After all, in just a few weeks’ time, this will all be forgotten.”
Would that this were so, and that Jack McConnell’s wish that the Battle of the Boyne should be consigned to the dustbin of history should happen sooner than later.
We have had more than our fill of Orange (and Republican) marches and the dearest wish of most of us is that our politicians and police find a cure for flute and mouth disease.
Mounties escort an Orange Walk passing the Municipal Buildings in Dumbarton.
Picture by Bill Heaney