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23 July 1998 Edition

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Time for direct dialogue

Proximity talks involving representatives of the Garvaghy Road residents and the Orange Order in Portadown broke down on Tuesday 21 July without success.

Progress in the talks was made impossible by the refusal of the Orange Order to countenance entering the same room to talk, even indirectly through an independent chairperson, with members of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition.

A chance for progress has once again foundered on the rocks of Orange bigotry. A refusal to see Catholics or nationalists as equal citizens lies at the heart of the insistence of Orange representatives that they have no obligation to talk to their neigbours in order to tackle issues of mutual concern.

Proposals made by the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition to the British government and the Orange Order included the establishment of a civic forum to address the social, economic, cultural and political divisions in Portadown and the establishment of fully-funded programmes which would tackle social and economic neglect and discrimination.

These proposals were not matched by the Orange Order. Instead it doggedly insisted on securing a march down the Garvaghy Road this year and sought absolute guarantees in relation to marches in future years.

As the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition pointed out this week the real conflict at Drumcree this year has been between the Orange Order and the British government. The British government stated that it would uphold the ruling of the Parades Commission. Despite this the residents entered proximity talks in good faith and stated their open minded approach in reference to future years. They got short shrift from the Orange Order who showed a total inability to get involved in serious dialogue.

The recent Orange rally in Portadown heard local District Master Harold Gracey inform supporters that the Orange Order no longer needed thousands of Orangemen on the hill at Drumcree. He added that the battle would be fought in the towns and villages across the Six Counties. Increasingly the focus is shifting to Derry where the Apprentice Boys are insisting on marching the full length of the city walls depite objections from nationalist residents and the disruption and violence the march has caused in recent years.

A civic forum met in Derry on Wednesday night. It is attended by Apprentice Boys and members of the Bogside Residents' Committee but the Apprentice Boys have continued to insist there will be no direct dialogue. Nevertheless, direct dialogue between nationalist residents and the loyal orders and the acceptance of equality of treatement between the various traditions in Ireland are the only realistic way forward in the marches issue.

 

Proximity talks break up



Orangemen insist on march



by Laura Friel

``The Orange Order succeeded in holding the entire process hostage,'' said Breandan MacCionnaith of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition as proximity talks ended without agreement last Tuesday night, ``by insisting that any progress whatsoever was entirely and completely conditional upon securing a march on the Garvaghy Road this year''.

Despite the fact that the issue was primarily a conflict between the Orange Order and British government commitment to uphold the Parades Commission's decision to re route the Drumcree march, Garvaghy residents said they had entered into proximity talks ``to play our part in assisting the search for a long term solution to the marching issue'' but the Orange Order had not only insisted on marching on the Garvaghy Road this year but also ``demanded an unequivocal guarantee of parades in all future years''.

Describing the way forward as ``not through force but through dialogue,'' the residents expressed their disappointment at the failure of the Orange Order to engage ``constructively, positively and directly'' during the process. While the Garvaghy Coalition had hoped for a long term resolution through mutual respect and trust, ``by refusing to even consider entering a room with the GRRC and talking indirectly through an independent chairperson showed a complete lack of respect for the nationalist community''.

In detailed proposals presented to the British government and Orange Order, the residents' group hoped to ``secure the rights of all people of Portadown''. The proposals included the establishment of a civic forum to address divisions in the city by establishing social and economic programmes funded directly by the British government. ``These are basis resources which have been unfairly denied to the nationalist community over many years through structured discrimination,'' said MacCionnaith. ``In redressing those imbalances the British government would be honouring commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement.''

Leaving the talks, the facilitators, Roy Magee and Peter Quinn said they hoped to reconvene ``as soon as possible''. A delegation of Orangemen from Portadown left without comment.

 

Derry civic forum debates march



By Martha McClelland

For the first time the Apprentice Boys, the Orange Order and Unionist councillors participated in community-wide discussion on the parades issue in Derry this week.

The Civic Forum, chaired by SDLP former Mayor Martin Bradley, was set up after last year's disastrous Apprentice Boys' parade. It has met only twice before and includes the Bogside Residents' Group and the Ulster Community Action Network, associated with the UDA/UDP. Although the Forum has no power, by providing a platform for discussion it could, if accommodation is reached, avoid an imposed ruling from the Parades Commission on the annual Apprentice Boys march due to take place in the city on 8 August.

The Apprentice Boys have already announced their intention to march the full length of the Walls. The Parades Commission is likely to permit this, although to do so would fly in the face of all their criteria for contentious parades, in damage to community relations, civic and business disruption, and violence associated with the march.

The Bogside Residents' Group have submitted a number of proposals for consideration to the Forum. These include limiting the numbers participating, particularly of bands, an alcohol ban and restricting the route of the march. One very contentious aspect is the closure of the city centre arising from the route. The Apprentice Boys insist on going to the War Memorial in the Diamond twice, by a main shopping thoroughfare, shutting down the city centre for hours on a busy Saturday.

Derry's Apprentice Boys march in August is the North's largest and most disruptive Loyalist march. Even Belfast's 12th of July parade is smaller, since the numerous parades dispersed across the North limits the numbers at any one parade. Last year, 149 bands marched into Derry city centre (including one with LVF colours), closing down most businesses for the day and resulting in massive civic unrest.

The business community, tourism promoters and even residents of a Unionist housing estate have objections to the march. In contrast to the 12th of July, which is a bank holiday, the Apprentice Boys march falls on a normally busy Saturday. Business losses run into thousands. Business people are further incensed because the second major Apprentice Boys event, the Burning of Lundy, takes place on the busiest shopping day in the year, the second Saturday before Christmas.

Ironically, even residents of the Loyalist Fountain estate have problems with the marches. Consultation revealed that residents feel the march lasts too long, inundating the Fountain. Worse, pensioners complain that heavily-drinking Loyalist bandsmen rush into the only Unionist estate on the cityside - not to embrace their brethren, but to relieve themselves in entryways and gardens.

 

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An Phoblacht
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