Twelfth of July is the worst day of my year, says UDA boss
UDA LEADER Jackie McDonald has revealed that he hates the Twelfth — and he's branded the most important date on the Orange calendar as the worst day of his year.
Only 72 hours before thousands of Orangemen take to the streets to mark the 322nd anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, the veteran loyalist also urged their leaders in Belfast to abandon their return march from ‘the field’ on the Twelfth.
The south Belfast paramilitary boss, who counts former President Mary McAleese and her husband Senator Martin among his friends, said what he called a “one-way ticket” to Edenderry on the Twelfth could defuse tensions on the streets.
Mr McDonald said: “The Twelfth really is the worst day of the year for me — because of all the trouble that happens on the way back from the field.
“It’s down to the drinking — it shouldn’t happen. You only have to look at the Balmoral review in May to commemorate the centenary of the Ulster Covenant rally.
“Ten thousand people marched one way to Ormeau Park and dispersed afterwards. It was one of the best parades I have ever seen.”
Mr McDonald said the Orange Order should consider marching to the field — but not back again.
“There’s nothing wrong with the outward parade, but it’s the way the hangers-on, the blue bag brigade, spend four or five hours drinking carry-outs before going home when the trouble kicks off.
“Most of it is between the different loyalist factions — the UDA, the UVF and the Red Hand Commando. All the old jealousies and rivalries surface. There’s not a Catholic for miles.
“It creates tension and trouble and it does the Orange Order and the bands no favours at all.”
Mr McDonald said he understood from Orange sources that the order had discussed stopping the return parade. He added: “That’s where the difficulties are”.
Orange Order chaplain, the Rev Mervyn Gibson, confirmed the idea was considered but rejected.
He said: “It just wouldn't work. You couldn't have thousands of people returning at different times. It would be impossible for police to control. The PSNI has told us it is not a realistic option.”
Mr McDonald said he believed such a move could end annual disturbances as Orange lodges parade past shops at the north Belfast Ardoyne interface where republicans protest.
This year the Parades Commission said the lodges must return three hours earlier than normal. The Orange Order has described this as impractical and unworkable.
Mr McDonald said: “I think they should forget that part of the parade completely. It’s the same story at other interfaces where there has been trouble in the past.
“People in those areas tell me that the problems aren’t in the mornings but in the evenings when the parades return with people who by then have got the drink in them.
“I am not saying that people aren’t entitled to have a drink on the Twelfth Day but it should be dignified.”
He also confirmed that the UDA was still in existence and questioned republican claims that the IRA had completely disbanded
He said: “Of course they are still there. At the time when they signed up to the ceasefires people said they had to stay because their influence was necessary to bring everybody else with them.”
He stressed he didn’t see the IRA as a threat: “I regard them as a positive influence.”
Mr McDonald said the UDA were also a positive influence within loyalism, adding: “The UDA are still part of everything. They’re not an active part of everything but their influence is helping to convince people about moving on.
“The ex-combatants and the ex-prisoners are probably the most positive thinking people around. They have been there, they have done it, they have suffered for it.”
Mr McDonald said his organisation owed it to its members who had died to ensure there was a lasting peace.