25 June 1998 Edition
Flanagan's remarks fuel Garvaghy fears
By Laura Friel
In what appears to be a green light to loyalist extremists, RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan has said he will push the 5 July Orange parade through the nationalist Garvaghy Road if Orangemen repeat their mass intimidation campaign of 1996.
Interviewed for a US television documentary, Flanagan said he would overrule any decision to re-route the parade by the Parades Commission despite the Commission's ruling being legally binding on public order grounds.
The interview with the Los Angeles-based `One Thousand Lights Productions' is to be shown on American TV later this year. During the interview Flanagan was asked ``If the Parades Commission rules against the Orange Order with respect to marching down Garvaghy Road, and if the Spirit of Drumcree masses thousands there again, threatening to use - as they have said on record they would - whatever means necessary to force the march down, will the RUC let them through?'' ``Absolutely,'' replied Flanagan.
He later claimed he was quoted out of context. Transcripts of the RUC Chief's comments have been made available to the Dublin, British and American governments.
Garvaghy Residents' spokesperson Breandan MacCionnaith pointed out that if Flanagan was prepared to say this on American TV, ``you can be sure he's saying the same thing to the Commission and to the British government itself.'' MacCionnaith accused the RUC boss of ``encouraging Joel Patton and the Spirit of Drumcree.'' The message Flanagan is giving to the Orange Order is ``threaten force and you'll get your way,'' said MacCionnaith. The current Chief Constable is saying if loyalists threaten the nationalist community of Garvaghy with violence, ``he has no intention whatsoever of upholding the law and protecting the lives and property of Portadown nationalists.''
Meanwhile there is growing evidence that Loyalists are planning another `siege of Drumcree' if the Parades Commission rules the Orange Order march of 5 July should be re-routed away from the nationalist Garvaghy Road. Leaflets and posters urging mass demonstrations have been distributed throughout many loyalist estates in the Six Counties. Loyalists are believed to be organising a mass rally to block access to Belfast's International Airport at Aldergrove.
Orangemen told `to play it cool'
By Laura Friel
Orange marchers taking part in last week's `Tour of the North' parade were told to ``put a good face on it'' following the decision to re-route the march away from nationalist areas in North Belfast. According to an Orange bandsman taking part in the parade, Orangemen had been asked to ``play it cool'' on the parades issue in the run-up to the election. To ensure compliance the `Tour' was stewarded by the UDA and UVF.
After the election, the bandsman was assured Orangemen would be ``getting their money back''. The Orangeman's remarks suggest either implicit collusion between the Orange Order, the RUC and/or the Parades Commission to push contentious parades through nationalist areas after the Assembly election, or the threat of an orchestrated mass campaign of intimidation by loyalists, in the style of the Drumcree stand-off of 1996.
With Orangemen on their `best behaviour' the tour passed relatively peacefully despite the consumption of large amounts of alcohol by the crowd accompanying the parade. Many of the revellers were clearly the worse for drink. One woman staggered along the footpath repeatedly mixing vodka and Coke into a baby's feeding cup from which she liberally swigged.
While there was no serious disorder the mood of the crowd was far from harmonious. Potential confrontations between the crowd and RUC were quickly defused by loyalist stewards. Denied access to nationalist areas, journalists covering the parade became the only `outsiders' for the marchers to target for abuse. The media presence quickly became the focus of the crowd's frustration and aggression. Reporters and photographers were jostled and harassed. One woman journalist was singled out for particular abuse. By 11pm along the parade route from the junction of Clifton Park Avenue and Crumlin Road to the bottom of Crumlin Road, apart from a trail of broken bottles, empty cans and discarded wrappers, the streets were empty.
Hundreds of nationalist residents had held a `peace vigil' at the junction of Clifton Park Avenue and Cliftonville Road - along the original route of the Orange parade. This broke up peacefully when the parade proceeded along the re-routed course.
Springfield residents call for support
By Laura Friel
Every summer fear of sectarian attack drove Bernie Donnelly and her five children from their Springfield Road home. In the run up to the annual Orange march, Bernie and her neighbours were stoned and abused by loyalist youths.
On the eve of every parade, the RUC swamped the area, curfewing residents and imposing virtual martial law. Every year when the Orange parade passed Bernie's house, the front door was kicked in.
Last year, when Bernie Donnelly joined a peaceful protest by local residents, an RUC Chief Inspector ordered his men to ``put on your helmets and get into them''.
In the immediate aftermath of the parade, riot clad, baton-wielding RUC officers forced their way into the home of Kevin Doherty. Kevin was so severely beaten he was rushed to hospital with serious head injuries.
Every month since last year's march Springfield Residents' Action Group have sent a recorded letter requesting dialogue to the secretary of the local Orange Order. The Orange Order has never replied.
This week the Parades Commission announced its decision to allow an Orange parade to cross the peace line onto the Springfield Road and into nationalist West Belfast. Bernie Donnelly says the experience of local residents has been totally ignored. In their ruling the Parades Commission commended the behaviour of Orange marchers and located responsibility for past disorder solely with nationalist residents. Despite a recent survey that revealed over 98% of houses along this section of the Springfield Road contain nationalist residents opposed to the parade, the Commission described the area as `mixed'.
When the Commission met with local residents, on Friday 19 June, they assured the delegation that their fears would be fully considered. They later admitted the decision to allow the Orange parade into nationalist West Belfast had been taken the previous day, on Thursday 18 June. ``We note with consternation the attempt by the Parades Commission to lay the blame for any disorder in the past at the door of nationalist protestors,'' says residents group spokesperson Francis Auley, ``thus vindicating the invasion of our area by the Orange Order and the repressive measures of the RUC to facilitate it.''
Security gates along the peaceline at Workman Avenue are being opened specifically to facilitate this loyalist incursion into nationalist West Belfast. ``For the nationalist residents of the Springfield Road second-class citizenship is still a stark reality,'' says Francis. Francis says the residents' group has ``bent over backwards'' in trying to engage in genuine dialogue with all concerned groups while the Orange Order has stubbornly refused to talk to any group including the Parades' Commission, ``yet they are being allowed to proceed against the expressed wishes of local residents. What message does that send to local people?''
West Belfast MP Gerry Adams described the Commission's decision as ``incomprehensible and disgraceful''. He said it was clear that the Commission had failed to take account of population changes in the area and the damaging impact the decision will have on nationalists. ``It has ignored the history of violence which has traditionally surrounded this march, `` he said.
In June 1993 during an Orange march in the Springfield area, UVF man Brian McCallum was killed when a grenade he was about to throw exploded prematurely. At a press conference residents urged nationalists ``throughout the West of the city'' to support a series of protest pickets (Thursday and Friday at 4.30pm at the corner of Colinward Street) culminating in a peaceful demonstration (assemble 2.15pm at Cupar Street) on the day the Orange parade is scheduled to march, Saturday 27 June.
Synod fails to reject sectarianism
The Church of Ireland has rejected a call to distance itself from factional or political organisations and assume some responsibility for the damage done to communities by sectarian Orange parades.
In a submission to the Church's sub-committee on sectarianism in Dublin on Tuesday 23 June, a group of leading clerics and lay people called on bishops to meet with residents groups. They also suggested that bishops should postpone church services that were connected to contentious parades.
The group asked, ``what kind of witness is it to the Gospel, to which Orangemen have professed allegiance in church, when nationalist Roman Catholics are told that an Orange parade will be forced through the area in which they live?''
The group said that the refusal of local bishops to enter into face to face dialogue with those directly affected ``displays contempt for our neighbours and is contrary to the example of Our Lord''.
Cannon Charles Kenny said it was the duty of the church not to encourage sectarianism and that the violence following Orange parades and Church services was ``nothing short of scandal''.
Meanwhile, Gerry Adams called the contentious parades issue ``the acid test'' of the British government's commitment to peace. He said, ``I particularly want to appeal to our friends within the Church of Ireland to ensure that their churches aren't used in the same way as they have been during the more contentious parades.''
Rev Martin Smyth, former Grand Master of the Orange Order and South Belfast MP called the sub-committee ``misguided'' and - strangely - claimed they were stuck in the ``17th century''.