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1 October 1998 Edition

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Orange splits widen

by Sean O'Tuama

Violence erupted in Portadown on Saturday 26 September following a rally by the Orange Order. However, due to the smaller than expected turnout the trouble was relatively minor. Four RUC men received minor injuries and two loyalists were arrested during scuffles in the town after the rally. Later that evening another RUC man was slightly injured by a firework near Drumcree church by loyalist protesters.

Some two thousand Orangemen and loyalists from across the North attended the rally at Carlton Street Orange Hall in the town centre. Grand Master, Robert Saulters, addressed the crowd, condemning the Parades Commission, the Northern Ireland Office and RUC chief Flanagan.

He went on to say that progress over the siege of the Garvaghy estate could be made if the residents' spokesperson, Brendan MacCionnaith, was ``taken out'' of the coalition. And he urged loyalists to go to Drumcree at least once a week to support the Order.

Responding to Saulters' comments, MacCionnaith said, ``he probably gave the game away when he said that if the people of the Garvaghy Road wanted to get asleep at night they should get rid of me. Is he now admitting that the Orange Order have been behind protests every night in Portadown?''

A petition was launched at the rally in support of the continuing loyalist protest at Drumcree church.

Unionist MP, Martin Smyth added an even more sinister note to the event by suggesting that the Order's ``difficulties'' could be overcome if loyalists ``contended more earnestly for their faith''.

Sinn Fein Assembly member, Martin McGuinness, said that Smyth's presence at the rally showed that the Ulster Unionist party was ``encouraging sectarian conflict.''

Sinn Féin Assembly member, Dara O'Hagan, called on David Trimble to meet with the Garvaghy residents to resolve the ongoing siege of the estate. She said, ``the ever increasing intimidation of the nationalist population in Portadown must be addressed by both community and political leaders, and David Trimble as first minister and the local MP clearly has an important role to play in resolving these difficult matters.''

The facade of Orange unity dissipated by Sunday when it was revealed that the Orange dissident group, the Spirit of Drumcree, was considering pushing for disciplinary proceedings against David Trimble for attending the funerals of Catholics killed in the Omagh bomb.

By Tuesday, the Order's Armagh County Grand Chaplain, William Bingham, was trying to appeal to both factions by declaring his support for loyalist protests but adding that such protests could undermine the Order's ``battle for hearts and minds.'' He was speaking at the twelfth annual Evangelical - Roman Catholic conference in Belfast. The conference was picketed by Free Presbyterians whose leader, Ian Paisley, accused Bingham and his fellow clerics of ``flirting with Popery'' by their presence at the meeting.

Meanwhile, Dunloy Parents and Residents Association have information from a ``very good source'' that the Order are planning a ``show of strength'' in the town some night this week. There's justifiable concern that the Order's presence would spark trouble, not only because of the violence in Portadown but also due to the trouble following the Orange march in Downpatrick last Friday. During this latter march, loyalists attacked the RUC with missiles and fireworks.
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