Stewards blend in at Orange Walk
WITH their Orange Order sashes draped over brightly coloured orange high-vis jackets, the hundreds of stewards employed for the first time to keep marchers in check at yesterday's annual Orange Walk through Glasgow were difficult to spot.
Indeed, according to one patrol woman in George Square, from where the 8,000 marchers set off to parade to Glasgow Green, that was the whole idea.
"It's so they blend in with all the rest of the orange," she said, amid a sea of bowler hats and white gloves moving to the rhythm of flutes and drums.
It is the first time Orange Lodge stewards have been employed in this way - allowing police to tackle disorder and violence from the antisocial element who continue to follow parades. And it was not the only change made to this year's Orange Walk, which finished at 1.30pm yesterday - four hours earlier than in previous years, in an attempt to curb the violence that often follows such events.
Police also issued stiff warnings to those in attendance that there would be a zero-tolerance approach to those uneasy bedfellows booze and bigotry - with digital display signs along the route flashing the words "No alcohol, no sectarianism" to those who hadn't yet got the message.
Did the police tactics make a difference? Last year, 34 arrests were made during the event, with more than 60 fixed penalty notices issued for breach of the peace, drinking in the street and urinating in public. This year, despite all the changes, there were 32 arrests - six for alleged sectarian offences.
However, assistant chief constable Campbell Corrigan hailed the day a success. He said: "Today was a successful event whereby the Orange Order worked in partnership with police and stewards to ensure the celebrations went ahead with minimum disruption to the city. Unfortunately, it was blighted by some individuals who still thought drink and disorder were the order of the day."
Unsurprisingly, some onlookers said they would like to see an end to the marches. One 53-year-old man, who had popped into town to do some shopping, said: "Having stewards is definitely a good idea. It does seem quieter this year. But, really, it's time for them to go. This is the 21st century. Fair enough if they want to have something in a park, but not in the centre of the city."
Glasgow City Council last year passed measures that effectively limited the number of parades, following comments from Strathclyde that policing marches was straining budgets. Having the walk finish four hours earlier meant it took one police shift instead of two to cover it, cutting overtime payments, which last year were 700,000.But the event still brought Scotland's largest city to a standstill for two hours.
All along the route men, women and children stood by the roadside dressed in red, white and blue, with colourful splashes of orange. Alongside the marchers walked a large number of young men, many of them wearing Rangers FC tops, others draped in flags emblazoned with the Red Hand of Ulster. Despite the police promises of zero tolerance, the smell of alcohol hung heavy in the warm summer air. Corrine Telfer, 45, a commemorative flag draped round her shoulders, was attending the walk for the first time since 1980. "It was a better atmosphere back then," she said. "It was friendlier, there was less trouble."
Certainly, in recent years there has been a lot of trouble. In 2006 there were 60 arrests at the walk - 12 for alleged sectarian offences.
Earlier this year, sectarianism flared both on and off the football pitch in Glasgow after Celtic manager Neil Lennon, along with other high-profile Celtic supporters, were sent parcel bombs in the post, prompting new hastily drawn-up - and now delayed - antisectarian legislation which would have given police greater powers to deal with sectarian offences.
But some prefer the old ways. Just off the High Street near the Old College Bar, Glasgow's oldest pub at nearly 500 years of age, one man wearing a sunhat with the date 1690 - the date of the Battle of the Boyne which the march commemorates - stitched in neon orange was selling Northern Ireland's flag, which features the Red Hand. He had little positive to say about the latest developments.
"I just can't get into it today, there's too many police around," he mused. "The Lodges have always stewarded their own marches. This thing now won't make any difference."
Others regarded the parade with some detachment. John Smith, 28, was down by the Saltmarket waiting to see his grandfather, an Orange Lodge member on parade with the walk. "There are always going to be a few drunken idiots around," he said. "I just come to support my grandfather. I was given the option to join the Lodge myself, but it wasn't for me."
In contrast, John Meechan, a Glaswegian member of an Orange Lodge in Yorkshire who acted as one of yesterday's stewards, was pleased at how things had gone. "It kept things at a level tempo, having the stewards," he said, relaxing with a cigarette on Glasgow Green after the parade was over. "We had no trouble at all - no-one crossing the walk or anything. It was fantastic."
Moments later, on the far side of Glasgow Green, a convoy of police vans, sirens blaring, screeched up a blocked-off street. For some it seemed, yesterday's Orange Walk was business as usual.
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