6 May 1999 Edition
Trimble finally meets Garvaghy spokespersons
After delaying four years, UUP leader, First minister designate, and local MP David Trimble finally met with Garvaghy Road resident's spokesperson Breandan MacCionnaith in Craigavon on Tuesday night, 4 May.
The three-and-a-half hour meeting, four years after the residents had first requested one, was described as ``positive and constructive'' by MacCionnaith and is set to be followed by a second meeting next week.
MacCionnaith said: ````This is a step which we asked for four years ago and it has now taken place. We need to focus our minds on the meeting next week.''
The only absentees from the meeting that included local councillors and assembly members were Craigavon's DUP mayor Mervyn Carrick - a move described as ``hypocritical'' given his frequent calls for dialogue - and Orange Order County Armagh grand master, United Unionist Assembly member Denis Watson.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Dr. Dara O'Hagan, who attended the talks along with Sinn Féin councillor John O'Dowd, said ``it was unfortunate that the root cause of the ongoing siege of the Garvaghy Road, the Orange Order, were outside the Civic Centre and not inside engaging with representatives of the residents''.
A large crowd of loyalists hurled abuse at nationalists as they entered the talks, chanting ``Fenian bastards'' and ``Where's Robert?'' and ``Where's Rosemary?'' in reference to Robert Hamill who was kicked to death by loyalists in Portadown in 1997 and Rosemary Nelson murdered by loyalists in March.
O'Hagan also condemned the presence of DUP Assembly member Paul Berry in the loyalist crowd, accusing him for attempting to whip up sectarian tension in Portadown just ``as small steps are being taken to promote dialogue''.
O'Hagan said: ``Paul Berry and his rent-a-mob were clearly intent on threatening and intimidating those taking part. He is not an elected representative for the area and had no errand attending the meeting.
``The despicable chanting, glorifying the murders of Robert Hamill and Rosemary Nelson show the selective attitude of the DUP towards the victims of the conflict here. If the DUP wish to dissociate themselves from these sectarian boot boys, they should immediately take action against Berry and his fellow travellers. The nationalist community in Portadown and across the Six Counties await the response of both the DUP and the Orange Order to the sectarian antics of Paul Berry.''
Garvaghy siege set to escalate
The Orange Order is set to up the ante in its siege of nationalists in the Garvaghy Road area of Portadown. Not only are they still refusing to talk to nationalist residents but the number of parades they are planning is to escalate in the run up to July.
The month of May will see Orange marches effectively seal off section by section of the nationalist enclave, putting those living in the area under a blanket siege. In addition to this, there will be the now routine march from the Church at Drumcree to the RUC lines on Drumcree Road.
The Orange Order intend to increase the number of marches around the area as the main Drumcree parade on 4 July approaches. Some sources are now indicating that they are going to draw up a march-a-day strategy to begin next month.
If the plan is agreed by the Orange Order, it will include invitations to both lodges and districts throughout the Six Counties to participate in the protests.
Breandan MacCionnaith, Garvaghy Road residents' spokesman, said: ``We have endured these conditions for the past nine months and it doesn't look like stopping now. If any other community in Britain or Ireland was put under this kind of pressure, there would be an outcry.
``It is clear to nationalists that the increasing Orange marches in the run up to Drumcree are designed to bring unbearable pressure upon the local residents in order to break the community before the Drumcree parade. The only way to resolve our community problems is to sit down and talk - but the Orange Order do not even respect us enough to allow us to choose our own representative.''
Why won't they talk?
By Pádraig MacDabhaid
This is the question which is being asked of the Orange Order with the release of the Parades Commission's annual report on Thursday 29 April and the decision by David Trimble to hold face to face talks with members of the Garvaghy Road Residents group.
Alistair Graham, the Chairman of the Parades Commission, expressed his belief that the continued refusal of the Orange Order to talk to the Garvaghy Road residents and its refusal to recognise the Parades Commission made it likely that the Order's Drumcree march will be banned.
Graham explained that change had taken place in the Six Counties: ``We now have Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionists getting together to sort out their differences, so why can't these two sides get together to try to find a solution?''
Graham also pointed to a survey of 1,000 people which showed that 83% of people wanted the Orange Order to talk to the Parades Commission, and he used this opportunity to call on the Order to help find a way through the problem of parades.
Breandan MacCionnaith, Garvaghy Road residents' spokesperson, said that he believed the actions of the Orange Order had made a mockery of the Parades Commission through their illegal marches and breaches of parade conditions.
``Almost every parade that has taken place in Portadown since last July has either been illegal or has broken restrictions placed on them by the commission'', McCionnaith said. He was also very critical of the fact that the commission has not even acknowledged that their restrictions have been broken. ``The people of the Garvaghy Road want to know when the British and Irish governments are going to implement the Good Friday agreement and allow them to live free of sectarian intimidation and harassment,'' he added.
Tyrone show of support for Garvaghy
Breandan Mac Cionnaith and Joe Duffy, both councillors and spokespersons for the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition in Portadown, received an official Chairman's reception at Omagh District Council Offices on Monday evening, 26 April.
The Garvaghy Road spokesmen also recieved ``a tremendous Tyrone welcome'' at a large public meeting attended by over 300 people in Carrickmore on Monday night. At this event, Mac Cionnaith called for ``the wall of silence'' about the situation in Portadown to be broken down.
The Chairman of Omagh District Council, Seán Clarke, explained his decision to formally honour the Garvaghy Road Residents Spokesmen as ``support for the human rights of a small, beleaguered community in Portadown'', which, he said, ``has been forced to endure orchestrated sectarian terror for many, many years.''
He also said that he was ``delighted to welcome the two Craigavon Councillors to Omagh, where there is very strong concern and support for the people of the Garvaghy Road''.
At the public meeting held in the Patrician Hall, Carrickmore, the Garvaghy Road residents' spokesmen were joined on the platform by human rights activist Fr. Joe McVeigh and a number of elected representatives, including local Sinn Féin Assembly members Pat Doherty and Barry McElduff, who chaired the meeting.
In his speech, Mac Cionnaith accused the Orange Order of ``setting out to cause offence to the Garvaghy Road Community, which is a large community of 1,500 homes and 6,000 people.''
He outlined that there had been 127 parades since last July, numberless attacks on Catholics in Portadown and many Catholic-owned shops and businesses burned. He referred to the murders of Robert Hamill and Rosemary Nelson and the forcing out of 17 catholic families ``in the name of civil and religious liberty.''
Mac Cionnaith accused the Dublin government of ``a shameful lack of interest'' in the plight of Portadown nationalists, reminding local people that ``the Dublin government is supposed to be the guaranter of our rights.''
He repeated his call for the breaking of the wall of silence about the situation in Portadown.
Duffy praised the women of the Garvaghy Road as ``the backbone of the campaign for human rights in Portadown'', and he detailed the history to date of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Barry McElduff told ``The Herald'' that Mac Cionnaith and Duffy ``were very heartened at the level of public support they recieved in Carrickmore, Omagh, and Strabane on Monday.''
Earlier in the day, a forum of community groups in Strabane, hosted by the Fountain Street Community Association, met with Mac Cionnaith and Duffy to listen to their experiences of daily life in the Garvaghy Road and to pledge their support and solidarity.
It is understood that a locally-based ``Friends of the Garvaghy Road Committee'' is to be set up in the next fortnight to keep local people informed about the ongoing situation in Portadown where the Orange Order plans to stage 16 parades in May and 30 in June, even before the month of July.
A day of sports and solidarity
By Caítlin Doherty
``This has never happened before''. Standing along the football pitch on Sunday, Liam, a local resident of the Garvaghy Road stood silently as teams from Belfast and the Garvaghy Road kicked off a Seven-a-side in Portadown s People s Park.
More than 300 overexcited youth had gathered in Portadown for a day of enjoyment and sports. They first met in the local sports club before invading the ``tunnel'' of Obin Street. It is on that street that the Orange Order used to march nine times in two days and local nationalist residents have been regularly harassed.
The tournament that had previously been put off after Rosemary Nelson s murder was part of an ongoing series of activities organised by West Belfast community groups. The activities that include health and drug awareness projects are aimed at breaking the isolation and showing solidarity with the residents of the Garvaghy Road.
``The kids here need a break. They have been undersiege for too long. This is really a cure'', Liam continued. ``Look around you. This park is the only facility that they can really use. Even if they adventured themselves into the town, there would be nothing for them.''
Local councillor Joe Duffy was among the crowds of parents and community workers gathered along the pitches. ``This type of activity is lifting the spirit of the youth. It s more than just about showing support. Joint activities such as these are vital in an area where the lack of leisure facilities are striking and the youth have undergone a siege of more than 300 days''.
The enthusiasm of the youth was difficult to contain and the games kicked-off one after the other during more than four hours.
While Micky cheered his sons, he gave a grim picture of the situation. ``This place is starved from communication. Anywhere you go, you re surrounded. The negative vibes are all over. It s good to see our young ones mixing with Belfast youth. There has to be more of these types of events. It s vital to keep the youth active, happy and out of trouble.'' As the buses rolled off from Portadown, exhausted faces glared through the windows at the Drumcree Church. It was a day to remember. The community workers promised that there would be many more to come.