This Sunday saw thousands of police on the streets of Belfast to defend a march of the Royal Irish Regiment, the former Ulster Defense Regiment, through Belfast. Weeks of negotiations as the different constitutional parties, including Provisional Sinn Fein, sought to make points in the continuing struggle to get the St. Andrews Agreement to work led to a ridiculously choreographed dance of different “demonstrations”. Tens of thousands of unionists came out and a much smaller number of nationalists and republicans.
The revamped Ulster Defense Regiment, a locally recruited unit of the British Army, before setting off to the Middle East and Afghanistan had previously been stationed on the streets they came home to. Dozens of Irish civilians were killed by the UDR over the years and there have been numerous accusations of crossover and collaboration with loyalist death squads. During the Troubles the regiment paid a heavy price as nearly 200 of their members died at the hands of republican volunteers.
The fact that a march celebrating the homecoming of such a force, returning from other engagements in the service of British imperialism, through Belfast would be treated as a sign of normalization is testimony to all that remains undone in Ireland.
The socialist republican group eirigi stood aside from all of this nonsense, in a principled stand against the occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and of Ireland. Refusing to seek British permission to march against the occupation it was eirigi that helped to make the parade an issue. Mountains of threats and fear mongering were produced to demonize and drive people away from the demonstration.
Despite all hundreds came to protest. Unbowed, Brian Leeson, eirigi chairperson, speaks at the demonstration defying the police, the army and, by their very presence, the path to “respectability” that so many former republicans have taken these last 15 years. Well done.