23 April 1998 Edition
North Belfast communities stand firm
By Mick Naughton.
A coalition of North Belfast community groups have this week amalgamated to oppose the contentious Orange Tour of the North march through nationalist areas on 19 June.
The biennial Orange march was halted by after it provoked a three hour gun battle in the early 1970s. It lay dormant until arch Orange bigot George Seawright resurrected it in the late 1980s, forcing it through the nationalist side of Manor Street. As a result of loyalist attacks at the time a `peace wall' was built dissecting the street. Unable to use this now blocked road over the past four years it has been forced along Cliftonpark Avenue, adjacent to the British army's Girdwood barracks.
In all, four nationalist areas are affected by the Orangemen who form up within sight of their destination in Clifton Street. However, rather than take the uncontentious route down the Crumlin Road, the marchers insist on tramping through Cliftonville, Brookhill, Newington and the New Lodge.
Two years ago Mrs Cleary, a grandmother suffering from throat cancer was run over by an RUC jeep while Sinn Fein negotiator Gerry Kelly was assaulted and dragged away by the RUC. He escaped, later cutting off handcuffs.
The issue was raised with a Dublin government representative in North Belfast. During the meeting it emerged the decision to allow the march through had been taken at RUC headquarters.
This year's march is planned for a week before the proposed date for the Assembly elections and with the Orange Order remaining adamant that the march will proceed and residents' groups seeking its re-routing, tensions are starting to build.
Four Sinn Fein councillors in the areas have called on the Orange Order to meet the residents. Councillors Bobby and Danny Lavery, Mick Conlon and Gerard Brophy also threw their support behind the residents' groups.
With no response from the Orange Order another stand-off, similar to that at Drumcree, is a distinct possibility, yet there is still hope among nationalists. Spokesperson Anthony Barnes told An Phoblacht, ``this march provokes rioting and trouble. After the march two years ago 40 nationalist families were intimidated out of their homes in Clifton Park Avenue in full view of Girdwood, and our information is that the Spirit of Drumcree Orangemen already have nationalist North Belfast in their sights as part of their campaign to break the Stormont Agreement. However, we are calling on the Orange Order to engage in dialogue with the local communities to ensure peace on our streets.''
Wall erected despite nationalist objections
British engineers moved in on Monday morning with heavy building equipment and swamped the Whitewell area in North Belfast in order to build a 40 foot high ``peace wall''.
Councillor Danny Lavery blamed the activities of loyalist paramilitaries for the wall being built.
``Residents round here want to live in peace and with this wall nationalists who have bought their houses are now faced with the reality that the value of their hard won homes will fall. Also elderly people from White City are now prevented going to the shops and post office on the Whitewell. This is a disaster and has reinforced the belief that loyalists still can `stake out' territory with the connivance of the RUC and NIO,'' stated Lavery.