ColumnistsRichard Sullivan

Tourists would run a mile from the twelfth

Tourists would run a mile from the twelfth

We’re missing out on millions in tourist dollars and euro because we have failed to share the glorious Twelfth with the rest of the world, at least that’s what the Orange Order would have us believe.

The wonderfully-named Quincey Dougan, who is apparently a ‘bands activist’ and  not a private detective from New York, insists parades are the ‘hidden gems’ of the tourist industry.  He was joined by Grand Secretary Drew Nelson who said the tourism potential remains ‘unfulfilled.’

I’m not sure they actually believe that themselves.

In recent years we have had the July parades described as  Ulster’s equivalent of Mardi Gras, and  then there was Orangefest, the plain fact is repeated attempts to reimage the Twelfth have failed to ignite a stampede of tourists.

Many Orangemen feel aggrieved, quite legitimately,  that their organisation has been besmirched  by events surrounding the long line of disputed parades that hang over the Order like a storm cloud.

The Twelfth is schizophrenic in nature. The vast majority of country parades pass off peacefully without causing alarm or tension, in many cases the organisation engage with local communities to ensure the day passes off peacefully.

Having said that foreign visitors aren’t going to fly into Belfast International and get a bus to Banbridge or Newtownstewart to catch the baunds.

The Order has to realise the image of the Twelfth across the world is one of conflict and tension.

How do they expect tourism chiefs to promote an event that has led to wholesale violence, injury and murder? The only foreigners at Drumcree were the international TV crews and news reporters trying to make sense of this “strange’ tradition to their home audience.

Phalanxes of police Land Rovers on the Ormeau Road, armed riot cops on the Whiterock and water cannon on Twadell Avenue are going to look a little incongruous in a tourism brochure in the Belfast Welcome Centre.

It has long been an unpalatable truth for the Orange Order that they have failed to get their own house in order.

They have spent decades blaming everyone else for every controversy that hits them. 

Belfast looks like a giant fly tip when the Orange have passed through. The side streets are lined with besuited sash-wearing men urinating on shop fronts,    many spectators and hangers on work their way through several crates of Harp tossing the empty cans to the side.

I remember encountering a couple of American tourists in Belfast on the Twelfth a couple of years back. Ankle deep in discarded chip paper and beer cans they asked for directions to the Crown Bar, only to be told  it was closed because of the Twelfth.

The city centre was deserted, they couldn’t even find somewhere to sit down and have a coffee.

I’ve never been to Mardi Gras but I’m sure it’s nothing like the Twelfth.