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9 July 1998 Edition

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Garvaghy stands firm

The besieged, threatened and frightened nationalist people of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown are this week standing firm against Orange intimidation. They are sealed behind barbed wire and surrounded by loyalists who at times have blocked every exit from their area. They are standing up for their right to be free from sectarian harassment and to be treated as equals in their own country and they are doing it under intense, sectarian pressure from the Orange Order. They deserve the support of every democrat.

The repeated claims by Orange Order and Unionist spokespersons that they advocate non-violent opposition to the re-routing of sectarian marches rings hollow in the face of the attacks on nationalist homes and proprety, the petrol and blast-bombings, the shootings, burnings and rioting across the North in recent days. A reign of Orange terror has been unleashed for which Orange Order leaders and their political allies within unionism cannot escape responsibility. As usual, isolated nationalist communities are bearing the brunt.

This is a defining period in the relationship between Unionism and the British state. Democracy, justice and the terms of the Good Friday Agreement dictate that the British government must pursue the path of equality. But nationalists can hardly be blamed for being suspicious that it will lose its nerve in the face of loyalist aggression. Repeatedly over the years the British have capitulated and opted to trample on the rights of nationalists rather than lance the Orange boil.

Trading off the rights of a nationalist community in Belfast's Ormeau Road against the rights of nationalists in Portadown will not suffice. It is a cop-out which merely delays the time when unionists come to terms with the need to respect the rights of their nationalist neighbours. There can be no backward steps on the road to justice.

Nationalists must remain vigiliant in the days ahead and all democrats must stand up against the threats and violence of an ideology whose day has passed.

 

Telling the world the truth of Orange sectarianism




Since Saturday the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition has broadcast regular bulletins to the world via the Internet. Here is an edited version of how the besieged community has seen events.

Saturday 4 July


2:00pm

The residents of the Nationalist Community in Portadown are now trapped inside what the British troops are calling a sterile zone. There are only a few entrances and exits to the area. The massive military machine that moved in brought with it barbed wire, large steel screens and diggers. There are troops occupying the St John the Baptist High School and local residential homes right outside the barricades are now occupied by soldiers.

The residents remain hopeful as they wait out the day and watch the continued buildup. The local community will gather at 6pm at the top of the Garvaghy Road to attend a vigil and to show the rest of Portadown and the world that they desire a peaceful conclusion to the situation.

Representatives of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition held an hour long meeting with British Security Minister Adam Ingram this afternoon in Portadown. The residents sought reassurance that the Parades Commission decision would be upheld. They also expressed their disappointment that the Orange Order had failed to acknowledge the generosity of the proposals made by the Coalition yesterday.

The Minister told the residents that the government would still try to secure a peaceful resolution of the issue, but stated that it was the government's intention that the Parades Commission decision and the Rule of Law would be upheld.

10:15pm

Two Catholic youths have been attacked by a group of loyalists on the Ballyoran Hill, which leads onto the Garvaghy Road. In order for this to happen, they had to go through an RUC checkpoint. The same RUC checkpoint also permitted a large convoy of loyalist cars to enter the Nationalist enclave and provoke local people. An official complaint has already been lodged with the RUC.

Sunday 5 July


8:00am

The night passed quietly with no trouble in the hemmed-in nationalist area of Portadown. The RUC patrols the area in armoured trucks. The residents for the most part slept peacefully, many in anticipation of a long day ahead. International Observers remained on duty throughout the night monitoring every major corner and military outpost in the area.

Early this morning on a live interview with Radio Five in London, one of the Coalition members explained that the only experience the Catholic youth of this community have of Protestants is being hemmed in once a year, having their mothers and grandmothers batoned off the side of the road, and having to face threats, obscenities and sometimes stones when they try to go into town.

This behaviour, she said, is what breeds sectarianism and is what the residents want to free their children from.

The interviewer asked why the residents did not just go inside their houses and shut their doors and let the march through. She explained that this was not a way they could teach dignity and humanity to their children or demonstrate for them a peaceful protest of sectarianism and the abhorrent way they have been treated as unequal human beings by the Orange Order and the crown forces. As she tried to discuss the fact that the crux of the issue was not the parade itself but rather the underlying attitude that accompanies it, she was interrupted several times by the interviewer and then he abruptly cut her off, leaving her in mid-sentence.

The attitude of some members of the media seems to continue to revolve around demonising the residents and focusing on the ``plight'' of the Orangemen.

Despite the odds, most residents believe there will be little trouble today, as the army seems prepared to keep the Orangemen out. The scepticism arises when the residents look to the days and nights ahead. Memories of 1996 keep everyone wondering how strong the pressure might get. There is relative calm.

At this hour last year, the people had already been brutally beaten off the road by the RUC and trampled underfoot by troops who cleared the road to allow the march to go through. Some residents who were up early this morning quietly discussed their recollections of that terror-filled morning and commented on how different it seems this year.

Near one of the routes that the Orangemen could try to use to get into the area, a lone Protestant man has set up a prayer and fast vigil. He is joined periodically by other Protestants and Catholics who by their very position on the road reject the triumphalism of the Orange Order, and by their actions demonstrate the true nature of both religious traditions. This one example of protest against the sectarianism that has underpinned the operation of the Six Counties for so many years shows the residents of the area that there is still a chance to overcome the divisions and work towards a future together with their neighbours.

On this quiet morning, as the people begin to gather at the Drumcree Community Centre and at the Garvaghy Road, fear is slowly giving way to halting hope.

11:00am

Thousands of loyalists have already massed at the churchyard and the crowd marching up to Drumcree is growing. Observers have already noted that there are 2000 marching with the County Antrim Lodge alone.

1:30pm

Upwards of 6000 Orangemen and supporters gathered around the Drumcree church and are forming up to march up to the Drumcree Road, now that the service has concluded. Thousands of those gathered stood and waited as far as 800-1000 yards from the church, not even participating in the service that is meant to be the crux of today's event for the Orangemen. All week supporters of the parade have insisted that the purpose for the day was to attend the service with the community, but only a small portion of the Orange crowd went near the church.

As the parade passed St. John's church participants danced and jumped up and down in mock stomping of Robert Hamill's head and body. They called out taunts celebrating his murder and saying ``what about Robert Hamill?'' and laughing. (Robert Hamill, an innocent Catholic man, was stomped and bludgeoned to death last year by a gang of loyalists in the Portadown city centre).

Observers are spread throughout the community and residents are gathered at vantage points where they can watch the crowds at the church. Most are extremely uncertain that the government, police and military will carry through their promise to uphold the Parades Commission decision.

Many are gathered in the community centre watching the news. Despite being the community under siege, they know no more about the situation than the rest of the world.

2:45pm

International Observers are reporting back conversations with British army officers about the numbers of Orangemen and their supporters in and around the parade. The Army was told to expect 3-5000 marchers this morning for the parade. But reports from the town centre where the Orangemen gathered before the march put the numbers at that time near 7,000. The Army said that they expected an additional 3,000 to enter the march after it started, and then 4-500 random additions as it went along.

The Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition spokesperson, Breandan Mac Cionnaith, Assemblywoman Dara O Hagan, Assemblyman Francie Molloy and Councillor Joe Duffy were denied access to fixed media positions on the Drumcree Road this afternoon. The four representatives had been requested by the media to facilitate a number of requests for interviews at the fixed positions.

RUC officers blocked their way and denied them access. They refused to give any reason and two senior officers refused to identify themselves when requested to do so. Dara O'Hagan had previously been at that media position and had been given access a second time, but was suddenly stopped from proceeding. State Senator Tom Hayden and Congressman Donald Payne attempted to intervene, but without success. Clearly, the RUC are attempting to ensure that the Nationalist representatives are denied access to the media. Another case of pure censorship.

Residents' anxiety is increasing. Every barricade around the community has been constructed so as to be removed in a matter of minutes. All the vehicles are facing the residents, rather than the Orange Order, just like they did last year and in 1996. Observers and residents report that some military vehicles and Saracens have pulled away from various blockades around the area.

The situation is very similar to 1996, where a standoff of the Orange Order involved the batoning of nationalist people off their road while ``negotiations'' were taking place amongst the top church leaders in a nearby factory. That standoff concluded four days later with the RUC capitulating to the pressure and violence of the Orange Order and its supporters and resulted in the death of Michael McGoldrick (a Nationalist man, father of one toddler and expecting a second at the time). There were injuries to countless numbers of residents in the 1996 RUC onslaught.

Observers on the Garvaghy Road today who were present in 1996 have noticed that the women of the community especially, who have to bear the burden of responsibility for their families as well as caretakers for the entire community and the vast numbers of foreign visitors present in the area, are very apprehensive and weary. They are hoping that their worst fears do not materialise. The observers comment that the community, having been through this situation three years running, is extremely organised and functioning with absolute cooperation and integrity. All problems that arise are taken care of expediently and the stewards are extremely vigilant, organised and making wise and careful decisions about the care of the community during this tense time. Finally, the observers also note the similarities to 1996 in the atmosphere, military situation and news reports today and some are apprehensive themselves about what the outcome may be.

High profile visitors, including a US Congressman, a US State Senator, Canadian MP's, South African delegates and member of the British Labour Government, are all participating in the observation of the situation and trying to intervene in difficult circumstances. The rest of the International Observers are highly organised and continue to canvass the area constantly and call in reports. Everyone continues to wait and hope that they won't hear the blare of the community's emergency siren this year.

Monday 6 July


10:45am

Things remained relatively calm in Portadown overnight. The Nationalist residents are doing their best to maintain an atmosphere of normality and go about their daily business. Most have gone into work this morning while International Observers continue to keep watch on the different military barricades in the area. The Residents Coalition remains in contact with representatives of Sinn Fein and the SDLP, maintaining open lines of communication with leaders of the nationalist community.

The residents wish to thank the many people around the world who have sent in their messages of support during these last days. Letters of encouragement and solidarity have been received from as far away as Norway, South Africa, Australia and North America. Other community and residents groups throughout Ireland have been the backbone of support for the beleaguered Nationalist residents of Portadown. The community has been bolstered by knowledge of all those outside who are keeping watch on the situation and who are advocates of equality and fairness.

10:45pm

Monday remained relatively quiet. Many were worried at the Parades Commission announcement that the Lower Ormeau Road march would be forced through. There are fears that this would give further impetus to the Orangemen to try and force their way through the Garvaghy Road.

As darkness approaches, activity has increased. The Orangemen who left their encampment to go to work have all returned, with the numbers swelling to the thousands now. For the last six hours they have been playing their pipes and beating their drums, in actions reminiscent of 1996. Despite the fact that it is an illegal gathering outside the Drumcree church, the Orangemen and their supporters are allowed free travel in and out, and they are enjoying chipper vans and marquees.

In a disturbing development, the Ballynafeigh Orange Lodge has joined the Drumcree standoff. This is the Lodge that was just given permission to march the Lower Ormeau. The connections are all too familiar to the nationalist residents here.

The RUC phoned the local taxi service to tell them that they'd received a threat from the LVF against the taxi drivers, and so the service has shut down. All bus and rail service across the north has also been halted.

Less than a mile from the Orangemen, inside the ring of steel that continues to surround the Garvaghy Road community, tension is palpable. People are extremely apprehensive as darkness falls, and many are much more alert than they were during the day. Hope is a valuable commodity this evening.

11:00pm

In a live BBC radio interview tonight, another member of the Residents Coalition was cut off and censored. The Coalition member was telling the story of a former Protestant neighbour who lived next door to her here in the Garvaghy Road. In 1996 he marched up to the church with his fellow Orangemen, but when the parade was forced through, he realized the sensitivities of his Nationalist neighbours at that time, and he refused to march down the road.

Tuesday 7 July


7:20am

At 6:45 the Orangemen began gathering at the top of Park Road, about 100 of them at the Tunnel Bridge, about 50-60 of them at the Corcrain, and over 200 at the roundabout outside St. John's Chapel. Project Children, an organisation that sends children from the area to America can't get their caravan out and they will miss their flight. Community workers had to put the fourteen children in five private cars and add several more cars for protection to drive the children safely to Belfast to get their plane. Local Councillor Joe Duffy had to conduct heavy negotiations with the RUC before they would agree to help get the children through. All Nationalist residents are being blocked from getting to their work. Helicopters are hovering low over the Nationalist housing estates, and the community is now on full alert, fearing for the worst.

9:00am

This morning's blockade preventing access to and from Nationalist areas of Portadown is believed to be stage two of the five point loyalist battle plan which will culminate on Friday. Stage two will involve blockades being mounted on the Nationalist area and removed again only to be reinstated at lightning notice. Information we have received indicates that the Orange Order strategy has been designed to force the Nationalist community in Portadown into submission through isolation.

10:30am

Residents are extremely tense and the entire area is now on high alert as it has just been announced there will be a loyalist rally in the town at noon. The shops have been told to close because of the rally, and the DHSS has taken the threat seriously and excused everyone from the Nationalist community from `signing on' at Jervis Street for at least a fortnight because the office in the midst of a loyalist area.

The residents are extremely worried and everyone is very anxious. However, people are remaining calm and doing their best to keep the community together and informed.

9:30pm

The residents are looking forward to a community festival beginning on Wednesday. The gathering of local musicians, street theatre, fun for children, including face painting, and a new mural being painted are all meant to lift the spirits of the residents during this tense time. Feelings of anxiety and fear continue to mount due to the intimidation of the loyalists blockading the Nationalist area. Community workers are organising the event to help alleviate the growing strain of the siege that holds the residents hostage to the Orange Order encampent less than a mile away.

11:30pm

Hundreds of members of the Nationalist Community gathered at the Drumcree Community Centre tonight to discuss the current situation. To questions about being trapped inside tomorrow, Mac Cionnaith responded that the community would not be starved or bribed into submission. Community groups from other parts of the six counties have committed to bring food and supplies to give needed relief to the residents and the neighbourhood. Everyone was relieved to hear this, most knowing that their access to work and the town centre will most likely be completely restricted in the coming days.

The people inside the ring of steel are remaining calm despite their fears. The community meeting bolstered spirits and the strong unity within the area.

Helicopters continue to hover low over the community centre and nationalist housing estates. There has been little sleep and hope wears thin as the hours creep towards the fourth day of the siege of the Garvaghy Road.

 


GRRC Website: http://members.aol.com/garvaghy/

 

Resolution can only be through dialogue




Gerry Adams calls for ``inclusive and direct dialogue between marchers and residents in order to achieve a voluntary accommodation of all contentious parades.''


At this point in the controversy over Orange Parades I want to outline Sinn Féin's point of view of the current crisis. Let me begin by reiterating Sinn Féin's position on the issues underpinning the current difficulties.

Sinn Féin upholds the right of the Loyal Orders to march. There are over three thousand marches by the various loyal orders each year There are only a small number, less than one per cent, which nationalists find intolerable.
In these cases Sinn Féin supports the residents in the host communities. No march should enter any areas where they are not wanted. This is not an issue of conflicting rights. It is an issue of equality - an issue of civil rights.
Sinn Féin believes that all democrats should stand by the residents. We believe that all solidarity protests should be peaceful and disciplined.
Sinn Féin is for a voluntary accommodation of all contentious parades. This can only be achieved by inclusive and direct dialogue.
    
The issue of inclusive and direct dialogue, based on equality, is at the crux of this matter. The Orangemen refuse to talk. They refuse to accept the rights of nationalists to be consulted or for them to chose their own representatives
The issue of inclusive and direct dialogue, based on equality, is at the crux of this matter. The Orangemen refuse to talk. They refuse to accept the rights of nationalists to be consulted or for them to chose their own representatives.

In other words they refuse to come to terms with the reality that if there is to be truly a new era then no group has the right to dominate another group. I accept this is a difficult concept for unionism and Orangeism to embrace at this time.

This statelet was establised as an Orange State and the Orange Order was the cement which held unionism, of all classes and social groupings, together. The Orange Order is a sectarian, anti-Catholic organisation which has members well placed in all of the institutions of the state - the various unionist and loyalist parties, the civil service, the judiciary, the RUC, through the Churches and sections of the business community. It has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. It is against change. It has chosen the marches issue as the battlefield on which it intends to rally all those elements who are against equality and change.

The growing confidence of the nationalist section of our people, efforts to implement an equality agenda, and the need to build a new society on this island is seen by Orangeism as a threat to its position. It is presented by its leaders as a threat to the Protestant way of life. It is not. But it is only through dialogue that the two sides, that is those of us who want change and those who feel threatened by change, will get to understand each others positions.

So, the main objective of all who wish to see these matters resolved must be to bring about dialogue.

The responsibility upon the British government must be to uphold the rights of all citizens to be free from sectarian harassment. If it genuinely means to do this then the British government risks alienating substantive elements of unionism, if only on a temporary basis. So London, and the establishment on this island, have only come to this proposition reluctantly as an example of other years on Garvaghy Road testify.

The temptation now is for the pressure to be put on the residents because it will be suggested, as it has been already, that they need to make concessions to Orangeism rather than risk David Trimble's position. This ignores his responsibility as recently elected First Minister designate.

This type of pressure on the residents also ignores the rights of the host communities to equality, justice and freedom from sectarian harassment as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement. Mr Trimble's new position, achieved through his support for the Good Friday Agreement, with all of these positions, compels him to take a non-partisan position on these matters and a pro-active role in seeking their resolution.

He cannot refuse to talk. Only last week the representatives of all of the political parties in this state, including many orange leaders, were present at the inaugural meeting of the shadow Assembly. Unionists, including Orange members sit in local government with representatives of all of the other parties, and do business with them. The same thing must happen now if a voluntary accommodation is to be found to the current crisis.

The Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition have already put forward a five point initiative to resolve the stand-off at Garvaghy Road. Unfortunately this was rejected by the Unionists and the Orange Order. I would appeal to them to reconsider this initiative or to propose an alternative. In any case I would ask them to enter into dialogue because without dialogue an accommodation is impossible. With dialogue a solution is always a possibility.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my call for all democrats to support the residents in the beleaguered nationalist areas, particularly on the Garvaghy Road. No community should have to endure the demonisation which the residents of Garvaghy Road or the Lower Ormeau Road are subjected to or the annual siege which these communities have to suffer.

There can be no backing down now in the face of pressure and threats from the massed ranks of Orangeism. The current difficult phase must be managed calmly and with an eye to the future. We must come down on the right side of history. And the right side of history is the side of equality and change. We cannot expect those who fear change to come on board until they know that they cannot stop it. Only when this is clear will they seek to play a role in shaping it. I have always made it clear that the best way to bring about change is by managing it in a shared way. That is the challenge facing us all today.''

 

The people behind the wire



by Laura Friel

An obscure country churchyard under the scrutiny of the international media. A procession commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Somme entrenched behind ditches and barbed wire. Ex-servicemen confronting the British army. `Law abiding' citizens breaking the law. Defiant Loyal Orders.

It has been a week of contradiction, even pathos, for Orangemen at Drumcree. You can see it in the faces of the elderly men fronting the parade, their expressions almost as impenetrable as the security cordon thwarting them.

The media image is seductive. Orangemen, beleaguered, betrayed. But it is only an image, a fleeting photo opportunity.

Despite their protestations, Orangemen at Drumcree are not surrounded, cordoned off, hemmed in, they are free to come and go at will. There is one small restriction, they cannot go down the Garvaghy Road without negotiating an accommodation with local residents. It is this that the Orange Order claim strikes at the very heart of their cultural tradition.

``This is make or break year for us,'' says a Portadown Orangeman. ``If we lose this one the Protestant community in Northern Ireland is finished.'' ``To allow marches to be re routed,'' says Joel Patton of the Spirit of Drumcree, ``is to surrender a piece of the United Kingdom to the enemy.''

Arriving at the dead of night, ``This is a battle that has to be won,'' Ian Paisley told Orangemen camped out in Drumcree field. ``If we don't, we will have the Mac Cionnaiths of this world dictating our everyday life and that is something we are not prepared to do.''

In what James Kelly of the Irish News described as ``the chess game of incitement'', Orange leaders and unionist politicians have been fanning the flames of loyalist reaction while side-stepping their responsibility for the ensuing violence. In one 24 hour period alone there were 384 outbreaks of disorder, 115 attacks on the RUC and British army, 96 petrol bombing incidents, 57 homes and businesses damaged and 116 vehicles hijacked and damaged, and a number of gun attacks. Predictably, much of the violence has been sectarian, from arson attacks on Catholic churches, to petrol bomb attacks on the homes, businesses and schools of Catholic communities across the North. As each night falls, nationalist estates throughout the Six Counties brace themselves for renewed sectarian incursions by loyalist mobs. ``I would hope,'' says DUP Assembly member Gregory Campbell, ``the situation remains peaceful.... but the longer it goes on without the Orangemen completing their walk the greater the likelihood of violence.''

At this year's stand-off, a number of known loyalist paramiliatries appeared to be in charge of `security'. In the churchyard they survey the surrounding fields through binoculars, appearing to pass messages to men filtering to and fro through the main crowd. Mark Fulton, rumoured to have succeeded Billy Wright as LVF leader, also briefly joined the ranks of Orangemen at Drumcree.

The Orange lodge came to Drumcree on the auspices of commemorating the 36th Ulster Division of the original UVF who perished on the Somme in 1916. Yes they fought bravely and died tragically but this is nothing to do with the Somme. The Orange Order began as a sectarian supremacist organisation to counteract growing unity between Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter. Many of those early tenets remain at the core of the organisation today. It is not Northern nationalists who need to come to terms with the `heritage' of Orangeism, but the Orangemen themselves. The days of posturing and pantomime are over. The Orange Order will need to take a long hard look at itself if we are to move into a new era of mutual tolerance and respect. It is very difficult to comprehend all this has happened because a small group of Orangemen in Portadown have refused to talk to their neighbours.

 

With the besieged people



By Fern Lane

Looking at the huge barricades and miles of razor wire erected by the British army on Thursday and Friday, which sealed the estate off from the outside world, one began to wonder if the Siege of Drumcree ought properly to be referred to as the Siege of Garvaghy Road.

Orangemen who, along with their hangers-on, have vowed to bully and intimidate at the denial of their traditional `right' to deny other people's rights, were allowed to come in their thousands, whereas the residents of Garvaghy Road and anybody trying to support them were stopped, questioned and often turned back as they approached the barricades, from both inside and out.

Inside the community centre, Gerard Rice of the Lower Ormeau Road said, ``My community feels a real sense of identity with this one''.

The mood of residents was determined but unsure about the willingness of the British to see the ban through: ``There's no way they can force it through now is there?'' someone would venture; ``That's what we thought last year,'' would come the response, and as Brendan MacCionnaith pointed out, assurances mean little to a community ``used to having promises broken and its trust betrayed.''

SF Assembly member Dara O'Hagan reflected on some of the other issues raised by the looming crisis: ``Something which has never been properly explored is the racism which lies at the heart of unionist ideology. We can't explore it - it has to be worked out within the unionist community itself. Drumcree is all part of that, of making them face up to their sectarian nature. There are much deeper issues at stake here than a ten minute march.''

Brendan MacCionnaith, in dealing with media, much of which has with varying degrees of subtlety tried to undermine him, responded with careful patience to repeated questions about why the community could not just `compromise' and allow the march through.

``With respect,'' he told one journalist who at the press conference on Saturday afternoon asked him, yet again, why the residents could not take the `moral high ground' and stop opposing the march, ``you're missing the point. This is about upholding the law. This community has been on the moral high ground for several years. The British have to take the moral high ground now. This was meant to be a legally binding decision; will the Government ensure that the politics of the bully boy and cudgel are not allowed to succeed?''

``All 32 lodges in Portadown rejected the Good Friday Agreement and now they have set themselves on a collision course with all the people in the six counties who voted for peace.''

GUE-NGL-new-Jan-2106

An Phoblacht
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