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29 June 2000 Edition

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Fears of sectarian intimidation grow in Portadown

BY CAÍTLIN DOHERTY

As the first Orange Drumcree parade, to be held on 2 July, draws closer, fears of sectarian intimidation and attacks are growing within the nationalist community in Portadown.

In a sign of how bad tensions are becoming, the centre of the town has been plastered with posters issued by the Portadown Orange District Lodge calling on all Protestants to unite against what they label ``injustice''.

The message is implicit: the Portadown District Lodge and their loyalist supporters are calling on Protestants to unite against Catholics, nationalists and anyone defending the right to live free from sectarian harassment, including liberal Protestants.

The posters, intimidating to any Catholic who would venture into town at this tense period of the year, are also a clear indication of how the local district lodge and loyalists from all shades of thinking have come together and organised a campaign of intimidation and terror.

The Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition (GRRC) has welcomed the ruling of the Parades Commission banning the Orange Order/loyalist parade in Portadown on 2 July from the Garvaghy Road.

A spokesperson for the group added that ``given what the Parades Commission said in its annual report and its determination, and in the absence of any political interference, we cannot see how the Commission can do anything other than re-route the parade on 9 July.''

``The determination restates a key position: any eventual resolution of the Drumcree dispute must be in accordance with the principles set out in successive determinations since its first consideration of the Drumcree situation.''

In other words, in the absence of any local accommodation, the Commission cannot allow a parade to proceed because it would have a detrimental effect on community relations in the area.

The Commission also recognised that the decision to apply for a second big parade this year was a clear attempt to raise tensions. Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann, Dara O'Hagan, also welcomed the decision. She said: ``For over 700 days the people of the Garvaghy Road have come under sectarian attack and abuse from loyalists. It must be made clear to the Orange Order that they cannot resolve this situation through violence.

``Yesterday's decision was the correct one. It is the only possible decision that could be made given the Orange Order's refusal to talk to the representatives of the Garvaghy Road residents.''

Meanwhile, residents have started to stock food and medical supplies. Many fear that as soon as the RUC barricades are erected on the access routes to the Garvaghy Road, loyalists will reinforce them, effectively sealing off the area and restricting all freedom of movement.

Many also fear that if the 9 July parade is re-routed, it is isolated Catholics across the Six Counties who will be the victims of Orange and Loyalist violence.

``Remember 1996, when nearly 200 Catholics families had to move out of villages and towns they had lived in for all their lives,'' said one resident.

``The tragedy of the Ballymoney Quinn brothers must also be remembered as we approach this tense time,'' she added.

Fears about widespread disruption, intimidation and violence were passed onto the Irish government during a meeting between Dublin foreign minister Brian Cowen and the GRRC last week in Dublin. The delegation explicitly asked that these concerns be relayed to the British government.

``Let's make no mistake here,'' said a spokesperson for the GRRC. ``It is up to the British government to ensure that it lives up to its responsibilities under the Agreement. The onus is on the British government to ensure that the basic rights of the residents and isolated nationalist communities in the North be respected.''

Those rights include the provisions about the right to live free from sectarian harassment, but also the right to life and to freedom of movement, among others.
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