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19 January 2006 Edition

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Will Orange marches be forced through nationalist areas?

BY LAURA FRIEL

Orange marches - Nationalist residents fear British Government struck secret deal

Residents fear the British Government intends to force contentious Orange parades through nationalist areas of the Six Counties this summer as part of a British package of appeasement for rejectionist unionism.

Residents believe the appointment of two Orangemen, David Burrows, a member of the Portadown Orange Lodge, and Donald MacKay, to the Parades Commission, makes a mockery of the representation of the commission as an independent decision making body.

Meanwhile, the fast-tracking of the specific section of the European Convention of Human Rights dealing with rights of assembly by the British Government has further fuelled nationalist suspicions of a secret deal between unionist politicians and British Ministers.

Over 3,000 Orange marches take place in the Six Counties within the space of three months every summer. Only a handful of contentious parades have been challenged by nationalist residents who have sought to re-route Orange marches away from nationalist areas.

The anti-Catholic and anti-nationalist ethos of the Orange Order, its close association with sectarian violence and the participation of unionist paramilitaries in its parades make it easy to understand why nationalist communities have sought to re-route the coat-trailing exercises from the areas in which they live.

Unionist attempts to portray nationalist calls for dialogue and accommodation as a sectarian agenda designed to undermine Orange culture is a gross distortion that has entrenched the Order Order's insistence on the right to march wherever and whenever it chooses.

The re-routing of an Orange parade away from the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown led to a violent blockade by Orangemen who massed at Drumcree and threatened to overrun the nearby nationalists estate on numerous occasions. A number of sectarian killings and sectarian attacks on nationalist homes throughout the North accompanied the Order's Drumcree demand. It is not difficult to understand why the recent appointment of a Portadown Orangeman to the Parades Commission has sent shockwaves through nationalist communities.

A nationalist resident from the Garvaghy Road is believed to have sought a judicial challenge questioning the appointments in relation to a legal requirement on the Commission to be representative.

Spokesperson for the Garvaghy Residents Coalition, Breandan Mac Cionnaith has confirmed that legal aid has been granted to challenge the British Government over the appointments.

"It is to do with the imbalance within the Parades Commission. The legislation which set up the Commission was very clear, it had to be representative of the community in the Six Counties," said Mac Cionnaith.

"Appointing two Orangemen could not be viewed as being in compliance with the legislation," he said.

David Burrows, Portadown District Master until he stepped down last July, has taken part in Orange parades in the past and will not rule out participation in this summer's parades.

Nationalist residents are also expecting a series of court battles following the British Government's decision to fast track Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the Six Counties.

In sharp contrast to the reluctance the British Government has shown in implementing many other aspects of the legislation, the part dealing with rights of assembly is expected to be in place before the Orange marching season beings this year.

Unionist politicians are already claiming that the legislation includes the right to parade but such an interpretation is open to question. Legal advice to Garvaghy residents suggests the UUP's assertion can be challenged.

Article 11 gives everyone the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association but these rights are mitigated by public safety and crime prevention considerations. Exercise of the right to free assembly is also dependent upon consideration of "protection of the rights and freedoms of others".

"We believe that a secret deal has been struck between London, the UUP and the Orange Order in Portadown," said Mac Cionnaith.

It is understood that former British Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson has held three meetings with the Portadown District Lodge, including one just before Christmas at Drumcree, another in England and a third meeting two weeks ago.

"The British Government should come clean about their role and the role of former UUP leader David Trimble. Where is the commitment given by the British Government in the Good Friday Agreement to the right of communities to live free from sectarian harassment," said Mac Cionnaith.

"Forcing unwanted and unwelcome sectarian parades through nationalist areas is not in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

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