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10 July 2003 Edition

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Drumcree 2003

BY LAURA FRIEL


The Orange Order's parade to Drumcree passed without incident last weekend but its ethos remains far from peaceful. The persistent refusal of Orangemen to extend even the minimum courtesy of speaking to residents of Garvaghy Road is indicative of the Orange Order's continuing hostility to the notion of accommodation and respect.

The Order's refusal to accept the Parades Commission's determination and Orangemen's insistence of their absolute 'right to march' unwanted through a nationalist estate has once again thrown residents into a state of siege with hundreds of British soldiers and PSNI flooding the area.

For the families of Garvaghy Road, many of which fled to the estate following persecution by Orangemen in other parts of unionist controlled Portadown, the annual siege of a nationalist enclave on the outskirts of the town is indicative of decades of sectarian victimisation.

For generations, Orangemen have stamped their authority over the Catholics of Portadown; it is only within this context that Orange outrage at being denied their 'right' to stamp their feet along the Garvaghy Road can be fully understood. It is only within this context that the residents' experience of the Orange Order's annual siege of their community can be fully understood.

And what has years of Drumcree protests done for the Orange Order? It has brought nothing but disgrace and disorder and dwindling support. Through the media, Orangemen are still not talking to nationalist residents in Portadown, the Order suggested that as a 'concession' if they marched down Garvaghy Road they would limit their numbers to less than a thousand marchers.

But of course, as with many so-called concessions by the Orange Order, last week's parade exposed the 'offer' as nothing but a sham.

Outside Carleton Street Orange Hall, Portadown Orange Order district secretary, Nigel Dawson appeared at an upstairs window to address the crowd. "Portadown district stands as strong this year as it did in 1998," he reassured the assembled marchers. But it wasn't true. This year the Order could barely muster 500 Orangemen to march to Drumcree. Orange Order chaplain Cecil Allen led a short prayer before the parade lined up behind an accordion band.

In the past, the Order's protest at Drumcree has led to extreme acts of violence including the killings of Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick in 1996 and three children in Ballymoney in 1998. The three brothers, Jason (8), Mark (9) and Richard Quinn (10) screamed and cried for help as they were burnt alive after a petrol bomb attack on their home. In 1999 Lurgan Lawyer Rosemary Nelson, who acted on behalf of the Garvaghy Road residents, died in a car bomb attack.

But unlike pervious years, the emphasis at this year's Drumcree protest was one of peace, if not reconciliation, and there was no repeat of violent scenes at the field outside the church. "I don't need to tell you how to behave when you are wearing your collarettes," said Dawson. While Reverend John Pickering, the vicar who refused to bar Orangemen from church premises despite pleas from Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames, called for "healing of division".

After the service, Orangemen marched to the barrier at the bottom of Drumcree hill to register their protest. At the barrier, Nigel Dawson told the PSNI chief superintendent to "remove this hideous barrier and your men".

Orange Order Deputy District Master David Burrows said the annual protest would continue "until our rights are given back to us". The crowd dispersed shortly afterwards.
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