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25 March 1999 Edition

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Garvaghy Road siege ignites

by Ned Kelly
Over one hundred Loyalists gathered at the Orange Hall on the corner of Corcrain Road across from Obins Street on the Wednesday evening of St Patrick's Day and the eve of human rights solicitor Rosemary Nelson's funeral.

With pounding lambeg drums they taunted and verbally abused local Nationalist residents. They singled out the late Rosemary Nelson for particularly obscene abuse.

The RUC, present from the outset, failed to intervene as a Catholic family from Corcrain Mews was singled out for attack. The family were forcibly put out of their home and have since decided not to return.

Shortly after 7.30pm the RUC leapt into action and without warning baton charged the growing Nationalist crowd that had gathered in response to the Loyalist threats and intimidation.

Independent Nationalist councillors Joe Duffy and Breandan MacCionnaith, who represent the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, received serious injuries as the RUC charged the crowd. MacCionnaith received an eye wound as an RUC officer smashed him across the face with a baton, breaking his glasses in the process. Duffy, beside MacCionnaith, received a suspected fracture. It is believed that 20-24 plastic bullets were also fired at the Garvaghy Road residents.

RUC boss, at the scene, Tom Craig admitting that Mr MacCionnaith was beaten by one of his men, claimed it was ``accidental'', a claim rubbished by MacCionnaith, Duffy and Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly who was also present during the RUC baton charge.

A 14-year-old boy also received a plastic bullet injury to his hand and a press photographer received a plastic bullet injury to the back of the head. A number of other local residents were also injured in the RUC attack.

Later that evening a young Catholic taxi-driver was pulled from his taxi by a Loyalist gang and beaten.

Speaking to An Phoblacht an angry Breandan MacCionnaith said that despite meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair last year and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern just three weeks ago both governments and David Trimble the area's MP, have shown a lack of will to resolve the situation.

Mr MacCionnaith said, ``if the British and Irish governments had been listening all along, I don't think this would have happened.''

``We have been living,'' added MacCionnaith, ``in a pressure cooker in Portadown for so long, so many things that shouldn't be taken as normal are being accepted by people not living here. All it took was a spark to set off an explosion.''

Breandan MacCionnaith, also told An Phoblacht that during Rosemary Nelson's funeral he spoke with Dublin Foreign Affairs Minister and express the need for real action on the part of the Dublin government.

Meanwhile on Thursday, following Rosemary Nelson's funeral 90 to 100 Loyalists gathered at Corcrain Road and moved to the Drumcree Hill. At the other end of the Garvaghy Road, at Ballyoran Park near the GAA club, another crowd of Loyalists gathered and hurled abuse and rocks at people living the area. With feelings running high among young nationalists the RUC moved in to seal off both ends of the Garvaghy Road thus sparking a second night of rioting.
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An Phoblacht
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