I wonder if former Justice Minister Michael McDowell has seen Billy (Spider) Kelly box? Back in 1950s Derry Billy was a champion fighter largely through his ability to bob and weave, which left his opponents punching empty air and eventually defeated. I ask the question because Mr McDowell has suggested that the Twelfth of July should be a national holiday north and south. It’s a startling and original idea. A national celebration throughout the country would certainly send the strongest possible signal to the unionist community in the north that their culture is a part of Irish history and that they will have a secure place and identity in a new Ireland. It would also take the sting out of any triumphalism that traditional Twelfth supporters might be tempted to display. What’s the point in trying to provoke your nationalist neighbours when they’re out there celebrating alongside you?
There’s just one catch with this McDowell plan: the Twelfth belongs to the Orange Order and the Orange Order is an anti-Catholic institution. So the tens of thousands of people in the south who McDowell envisions as wanting to celebrate the Twelfth would not be allowed to do so under the banner of the Orange Order. You wouldn’t even be able to do it if you were married to a Catholic or if you had attended a Catholic place of worship. So you see, Michael, not only can you not beat them, they won’t let you join them – except you’re a non- Catholic.
Sometimes the price is hardly worth paying. The decent, non-racist people of Alabama could, if they chose, ride alongside the Ku Klux Klan and help them set fire to the burning cross on someone’s front lawn. This would unsettle the KKK, it’d show that non-racists wanted to win them over rather than disown them – but would it make sense? Marching alongside a racist organisation doesn’t mean you’ve won it over. Vice versa, if anything.
Back to the drawing-board, Michael old chum, back to the drawing board.