23 July 1998 Edition
Garvaghy siege ends
On Wednesday 16 July, the twelfth day of the siege of the Garvaghy estate in Portadown, the RUC and British troops moved into the loyalist encampment at Drumcree to carry out a search operation.
The fields surrounding the church were cleared of loyalists during the operation and although ten Orangemen were allowed to return that evening to continue their protest this action signalled the end of Drumcree `98.
By Monday 19 July only a handful of Orangemen remained holed up in Drumcree church hall led by Harold Gracey, who was refusing to give interviews.
The crown forces uncovered Sten sub-machine guns, 9mm pistols, ammunition, catapults, crossbows, crossbow bolts with explosive tips, shotgun powder, fireworks, fuel for petrol bombs and a number of blast bombs. All had been brought to the site despite the heavy crown forces presence over the previous fortnight.
Over twenty people were arrested during the operation including Pauline Gilmore of the extreme loyalist group, the Ulster Civil Rights Association.
The hypocrisy of the Portadown Orange Order plummeted to a new depth on Friday night 17 July, when they amassed two thousand protesters in the centre of the town for an illegal rally to intimidate nationalists, whilst also engaging in proximity talks with the Garvaghy residents' group.
One of the gunmen who shot at the crown forces from Drumcree hill during the standoff has been identified as a leading member of the LVF and a placard found in a field adjacent to the Drumcree church read: 18 on tour. This refers to the involvement of the English neo-fascist gang, Combat 18.
They have previously attended Orange Order marchs in Portsmouth, England and recently sent a postcard to an anti-fascist magazine confirming that they would be coming to the Six Counties for the loylaist marching season.
The presence of these groups, well acquainted with acts of bigoted atrocity, and the formidable array of weaponry discovered at Drumcree proves that many nationalists this week could well have been conducting their own `traditional' march...... to the cemetery.
From Kerry to Garvaghy
SF Ard Comhairle member Donal Cusack, along with a group of fellow Kerry republicans, spent a week with the people of the Garvaghy Road during the siege of their community. Here he describes his experiences.
The relentless, 24 hour a day security presence made it very difficult to relax or sleep, and through it all was the fear that residents were going to endure a repeat of the shameful scenes of 1996, when the five day standoff ended with the RUC venting its hatred of this community by beating residents off the Garvaghy Road.
While out patrolling the area with residents, many opinions as to what might happen were expressed, the most common being ``we're going to be beaten off that road again, the march will go ahead eventually''. That so many felt this way despite the decision of the Parades Commission and repeated assurances from Tony Blair is an indication of how little confidence residents had that their rights would be respected. This is a community that knows all about betrayal, a community whose people quite literally take their lives in their hands when they venture into central Portadown.
As Breandan McCionnaith stated recently, ``since the Good Friday Agreement, this is the only community in the north which is still burying its dead''. The fears within the northern nationalist community that innocent Catholics would pay with their lives for the Drumcree standoff were realised with the horrific, sectarian murders of the Quinn children in Ballymoney. Many Garvaghy residents fear that they too will pay in the months ahead, as Adrian Lamph and Robert Hamill have in the recent past.
Watching events unfold on TV in the Drumcree community centre (open 24 hours a day for tea, coffee, food and craic), there was an often surreal atmosphere as we realised that scenes occurring only a few hundred yards away were often dominating global news bulletins. There were cheers and whistles of derision as Orange leaders appeared on screen issuing ritual and meaningless denunciations of sectarian violence which they had orchestrated and encouraged.
It was extremely frustrating to hear commentators describing the Orangemen and the Garvaghy residents as two sides of the same uncompromising coin. But who was refusing to engage in dialogue? Not the residents, who ask only to be left in peace, and to have their rights, culture and identity respected in their own country. A long difficult struggle lies ahead before these basic rights are realised; we all need to redouble our efforts to ensure that this happens sooner rather than later.
As the time came for us to head south to Kerry, we felt a mixture of relief that the worst appeared to have passed, anger at the senseless loss of life and the treatment of the Garvaghy residents, but also hope and encouragement at the spirit and resilience of a wonderful community.
I would like to take this opportunity to say, on behalf of Kerry republicans and nationalists, go raibh maith agaibh to the residents of the Garvaghy Road for their brilliant hospitality, particularly the women who came out to patrol their area alongside the men, as well as keeping the community centre open 24 hours a day (there are too many to mention - you know who you are). Also thanks to the international human rights observers whose work was so vital, as well as all those, north and south, who came to support this courageous community.
I have heard many comments from different sources discussing the Drumcree standoff in terms of ``win/win'', or ``win/lose'' outcomes. But regardless of what the future brings, I believe that the Garvaghy residents will always be winners; they are an example to us all.