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30 July 1998 Edition

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Loyalists maintain siege of Portadown nationalists

Supporters of the Orange Order are maintaining their siege of nationalist areas of Portadown. The Drumcree stand-off may be over but for the past ten days there have been nightly protest marches, blockades of the nationalist districts and street thuggery by loyalists.

The latest disturbances commenced on Monday 20 July. On that evening several hundred Orange supporters accompanied by bands made their way to Corcrain Road, only yards away from Craigwell Avenue, a nationalist street which leads into Obins Street. (In July 1996 over 16 homes in Craigwell Avenue were wrecked by loyalists in the aftermath of Drumcree.) The loyalists dispersed their protest after one hour before making their way via the town centre to Shillington's Bridge, which leads directly onto Garvaghy Road. Similar protests were mounted on Wednesday 22 and Friday 24 July.

On Wednesday night two hundred loyalist protesters and a band confronted the RUC at the junction of Craigwell Avenue and Charles Street around 9pm. The stand off ended after half an hour when the mob dispersed. An hour later a second gang congregated at the intersection of Castle Street and Park Road but left shortly afterwards. No arrests were made.

On Friday the loyalists were permitted by the RUC to proceed to the very entrance to Craigwell Avenue where local Catholic families were subjected to a hail of sectarian abuse and death threats. Stones and bottles were also thrown at homes in the street. At no time did the RUC attempt to intervene or disperse the protesters.

Such was the intensity of abuse directed towards the area that local Catholic clergy, concerned about the safety of people, called off a weekly bingo session which was due to be held in St Mary's Parochial Hall in Obins Street.

Later on Friday night a large crowd of loyalists armed with baseball bats and other weapons, including a machete, attacked customers leaving a pub in Woodhouse Street which leads to Obins Street. A number of those injured needed hospital treatment. Despite the fact that large numbers of loyalists had been roaming the town centre the RUC failed to provide any protection to two Catholic-owned pubs in the street. These two pubs along with two others and a GAA club are the only places where nationalists in Portadown can socialise in relative safety.

On Sunday several hundred Orangemen gathered at Drumcree Church to protest and again on Monday and Tuesday of this week loyalists held demonstrations near Craigwell Avenue and at the bottom of the Garvaghy Road. On Tuesday night, 28 July the protests moved closer to the Garvaghy Road with a thousand strong loyalist mob gathering just yards away from the homes of nationalist residents.

Two British soldiers were injured during the incident which saw the loyalists make three fingered gestures to the residents, referring to the incineration of the Quinn children in Ballymoney.

Portadown's Orange Order spokesperson, David Jones, washed his hands of any responsibility for the protests. He claimed not to know who was behind them but implied that the Garvaghy residents were being punished for standing up for their civil rights ``They've taken the action, now they've got to suffer the reaction.''

It has been confirmed that the Orange Order has filed notice for marches to take place from Drumcree on the next four Sundays - 2,9,16 and 23 August. On Saturday 15 August a march and `prayer service' is to be addressed by Ian Paisley and Willie McCrea. They are due to leave Carleton Street Orange Hall that evening and, accompanied by at least eight bands, parade along the lower part of the Garvaghy Road.

Councillor Breandán MacCionnaith told An Phoblacht this week:

``These demonstrations along with with the nightly illegal protests are contributing to a real sense of siege for Portadown's nationalists. In the last week a number of people have been subjected to intimidation at their places of work. One man had to be transferred by his employers from his place of work in the town centre to premises owned by the same company in another town after two loyalists approached him and threatened to shoot him.''
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