3 July 1997 Edition
A crucial test for the new British Labour government comes this Sunday 6 July as the Orange Order determines once more to march down the Garvaghy Road in Portadown against the wishes of its nationalist residents.
By Wednesday evening 2 July no decision had been reached on whether or not the parade would be allowed to go ahead. British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam met residents' representatives on Wednesday and their spokesperson Councillor Breandán MacCionnaith said that he expected a decision within 48 hours.
For a full year since last year's scandalous events at Drumcree when the parade was at first barred by the RUC and then forced through, the Orange Order has refused to enter direct dialogue with residents.
The people of the Garvaghy Road are organising a children's carnival on the road on Sunday and the RUC, while not banning it, said on Wednesday that it would be regarded as an obstruction. This was being seen as an indication that the parade would be forced through.
The new British government will be judged very harshly indeed if last year's events are repeated and the Orangemen are allowed through. A bad foretaste of what may come about was given on the Springfield Road on 28 June when the RUC guarding an Orange parade attacked nationalists with batons.
Drumcree decision already made
By Mick Naughton.
Many observers have reached the conclusion that the RUC are about to assist the Portadown and Armagh Orangemen along the Garvaghy Road on Sunday 6 July.
It is increasingly likely that the RUC's Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan will, despite assurances of a Wednesday statement, announce the British decision at the end of this week.
Late on Tuesday night Mo Mowlam met with Armagh Orange Grand Master Dennis Watson for talks and his comments afterwards that the Orangemen were prepared to walk ``six abreast'' if ``necessary'' with two bands, would suggest that an Orange march is what is planned.
With over 5,000 members of the RUC also members of the Orange Order, and with revelations that the NIO Security Minister, Adam Ingram, was once a member of the Orange Order in Scotland, the decision will come as no surprise to nationalists.
Further evidence has emerged that the Orange Order has not entered into any meaningful attempt to find a solution to the crisis. Speaking to the press prior to a public meeting in St Marys Hall in Obins Street on Tuesday evening residents spokesperson Breandan Mac Cionnaith revealed that the Orange Order had actually proposed a meeting with the residents three months ago to discuss Sunday's parade, but significantly they refused to finalise arrangements.
Breandan Mac Cionnaith read out a document in which the Orange Order had also proposed that the no-strings attached meeting, conducted through an un-named third party, would not exclude any representative of either side, incluing Mac Cionnaith who they have subsequently stated they will not meet.
When the residents agreed to the private meeting they were met with silence from the Orange Order.
``We are still awaiting a response over that meeting,'' Mac Cionnaith added. ``One has to ask, did the Orange Order ever act at all in good faith.'' The Coalition spokesperson also questioned their attempts to bring the different sides together. These included the failed proximity talks last Friday at Hillsborough and SDLP leader John Hume's attempts at negotiations earlier this year. These failed due to the Orange Order's unwillingness to talk.
Last Friday at `proximity talks' in Hillsborough Castle the Garvaghy people presented a paper to the Orange Order but those proposals were met with silence.
``We went in good faith prepared to discuss every option. The Orange Order did not,'' said Mac Cionnaith who pledged regular public meetings to keep residents informed about the changing situation.
``We have these public meetings on a regular basis to give people an undate on what's happening, to hear their views so that whenever we go anywhere, when we are talking to people, then we are going reflecting the broad wishes and views of our community. We haven't a clue what is going to happen, but one thing the people can be sure of is it will be unacceptable for martial law to be imposed upon the nationalist people of Portadown to facilitate an Orange march which this community does not want.''
It is known that those members of the Orange Order who attended last Friday's failed session were aware of the document read out by Mac Cionnaith.
Co Armagh Grand Master Denis Watson said before the Friday session: ``We are not going to negotiate. We are going to listen.''
Residents' plans unveiled
As tension mounts in the nationalist Garvaghy Road area of Portadown, residents have announced a series of events leading up to the planned Orange march on Sunday 6 July.
At a Tuesday morning press conference announced that the residents will:
1. Erect a women's `Greenham Common' type justice camp on the Garvaghy Road from Thursday.
2. Put into place a roadside picket or `watch' along the Orange Order's intended route. This is to also to monitor British forces patrols given the rumours abounding of more troops being flown into the area.
3. Hold a street carnival on Sunday around the same time as the Orange march. On Wednesday the RUC said they will consider the street festival ``an obstruction'' if it goes ahead. Residents later said they will proceed with the festival as planned.
``Don't force parade through'' - Ahern and Burke
Newly installed Irish Foreign Minister Ray Burke, speaking in Belfast on Tuesday, warned that it would be a mistake to force the Orange parade down the Garvaghy Road on Sunday. ``I do believe it would be very serious indeed if the parade was forced down the Garvaghy Road and the Irish government does not want to see the parade forced down. It would undoubtedly have implications for many things on this island,'' he said.
Burke's party leader, Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, also in Belfast, agreed with this assesment, refusing to give his total support to British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam over any decision she makes on Drumcree. The pair are due to meet again in London on Thursday 3 July when the British prime minister Tony Blair meets Ahern for the first time since both took office.
Ahern spoke in Belfast of nobody wanting to see the march forced through. ``No one wants to see people reined in, like last year,'' he said shortly before meeting representatives from the Lower Ormeau and Garvaghy Road communities in Dublin.
Ahern and Burke's comments were folowed on Wednesday by a threat by the Loyalist Volunteer Force to start killing Irish civilians if the Orange march in Portadown is stopped.
Adams calls for calm
Gerry Adams has appealed for calm, ``even at this late stage,'' and called for an agreement to be hammered out to defuse the potential for further Orange Order violence.
``The British government should not be seeking to exert pressure on the residents of the Garvaghy Road,'' he said.
``The response and approach of the British government to this critical issue will be monitored very closely, both here in Ireland and internationally. Mr Blair's government must not behave as the Major government did. To do so would send a strong signal that one British government is much like another. It would say to nationalists that unionists rule, whether it is on the streets or at the negotiation table.''
International spotlight on British Government
Observers detained in Glasgow
A number of Canadian human rights activists on their way to observe events on the Garvaghy Road were detained in Glasgow airport on Tuesday as they flew in to get a connecting flight to Belfast. The representatives were detained by the Special Branch for nearly two hours and were furious at this denial of their civil liberties. They are members of two groups, the Montreal based Coalition For Peace In Ireland and Toronto's Information on Ireland body.
They, along with observers from a number of countries will converge on the Garvaghy Road this weekend acting as independent observers. Their help was sought by the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition following the RUC brutality meted out to nationalist residents protesting at the Orange march last year.
Joining their north American counterparts will be over 50 members of a US delegation including New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi who earlier this week visited the Lower Ormeau Road the scene of the Sean Graham's bookmakers massacre in 1992 when a loyalist death squad machine-gunned Catholic residents.
That area was put under military curfew last year and spoksperson Gerard Rice has warned of a repeat of this on Saturday week.
Fellow US delegate John Timoney, a former New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner, also met Rice and commented on the televsion pictures of last year, calling them ``disastrous.''
Shutters down on supremacy
By Laurence McKeown
Well, will they, won't they? Will they march where they want or march where they are welcome? The only thing we can say with any certainty about the forthcoming Drumcree parade and the Orange Order is that they won't talk. Everything else hangs in the balance and it would be a wise, or betting, person who would attempt to predict the outcome. Well, I'm not a betting man so it must be the other, so I'm going to stick my neck out and say that the British government will eventually allow a limited march down a limited portion of the Garvaghy Road and that the emphasis will be on the use of British soldiers to enforce this arrangement.
So profound, I hear some of you say. But the interesting thing about the situation in Garvaghy (and I'm sure that interesting is the last term the residents would use to describe it) is the uncertainty. That wasn't so just a few years ago. It wasn't a case then that the Orange Order knew beforehand that they could walk along the Garvaghy Road or wherever else they pleased, they just didn't think about it. It would never have entered their heads. They couldn't envisage a day when nationalists would challenge their forced marches through their districts. Similarly for many nationalists. Many of them could never see the day coming when the lead-up to the Twelfth of July wouldn't mean a curfew of their street or village.
Last year at the height of the Drumcree situation I was in the back of a black taxi going into town. Two elderly women were talking about the situation and recalling how the Orangemen used to walk up Broadway onto the Falls Road each Twelfth. I couldn't believe it. They went on to describe what we know to be the result of these `carnival occasions'; residents locked behind their doors, afraid, (or not permitted by the RUC and B Specials) to go out onto the streets. The sectarian insults and abuse shouted, the bands playing even louder than before and playing the most anti-Catholic tunes.
It was a lesson for me to listen to these people speak of their experiences. Their thoughts were with the residents of Garvaghy Road because they knew only too well what they were going through. But they spoke with a confidence and a certainty when they said that the days of the Orangemen walking where they wanted were over. It might take a few years yet, they said, but it was coming.
It's strange, don't you agree, that the Orange Order doesn't today attempt to maintain its `traditional' march up the Falls Road. Come to think of it, they don't now march in the New Lodge either or many other areas where they once trumpeted their supremacy.
Tim Pat Coogan, writing in Tuesday's Irish News, says that ``Unionist political culture is based on three fundamentals: their British heritage, the Protestant religion and supremacy. The first two they should have, and they must be preserved in any new order. But the last has vanished along with the Anglo-Irish ascendancy. Today's nationalist population are a risen people.''
That's how the two women in the black taxi saw it and it's correct to share in their confidence. Yet it would be wrong to be complacent. The risen people of the Six Counties that Coogan refers to are also a people who bear the bruises and scars from the many battles they have waged. Battles that were often not of their choosing but which collectively have brought them to wherever they now are. And more battles will inevitably have to be fought, whether they be on the Garvaghy or Ormeau Roads, Dunloy, in the council chambers, through the courts or wherever. Nationalists would prefer it to be otherwise but until the belief of supremacy which still remains in many quarters of unionist thinking is challenged and ultimately faced down there is no other option but to confront it wherever it arises.
I don't think we will witness scenes at Drumcree that we did last July. Not because the Orange Order has seen some sense in the intervening period but because of a number of factors. There is a new British government with a massive majority no longer dependant on the unionists no matter what Tony Blair may say about unionism; King Rat is in prison and the loyalist paramilitaries are even more divided about what course of action they should pursue; and the eyes of the world press and international observers will be on the situation. So, whilst there is uncertainty about the outcome of this particular confrontation, what we can be sure about is that post-Drumcree the insecurities felt within unionism will be even more intense. And that can't be a bad thing if it produces some sane and enlightened voices from within that community.