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12 April 2001 Edition

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Mass protest call by Ormeau residents

BY LAURA FRIEL

A mass protest rally the night before the Apprentice Boys Easter Monday parade through the nationalist Lower Ormeau area of Belfast is being planned by the local residents' group and they are calling for your support.

The rally is scheduled to begin at 8pm on Easter Sunday and the organisers hope that nationalists throughout Belfast and beyond will travel to the Lower Ormeau to support the residents in their rejection of the Parades Commission's decision to allow the Apprentice Boys to march through a nationalist estate.

``We are fighting to have this decision overturned,'' said Gerard Rice of the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community group, ``and failing that we will leave the Parades Commission and the Apprentice Boys in absolutely no doubt about the strength of our feelings on this issue.''

Rice slammed the Commission's claim that its decision to allow the march to proceed was underpinned by ``sustained and meaningful dialogue''. ``It's an absolute lie,'' said Gerard. ``There has been no communication with the Apprentice Boys for over a year.

``We last met the Apprentice Boys over 13 months ago. That meeting took place at the tail end of an unsuccessful series of talks that ended in considerable acrimony. The Apprentice Boys refused to engage from the outset and the process came to an end without any agreement and there has been no resumption.''

Just a few months ago, when the Parades Commission refused to allow the Apprentice Boys to march along the Lower Ormeau Road, the Commission cited the fact that ``consultations have not progressed beyond the most preliminary stages'' as underpinning their decision.

``The process failed to produce any meetings, much less dialogue or agreement and came to an end this January when the Apprentice Boys withdrew,'' said Gerard Rice. ``A subsequent report by the facilitators for the Parades Commission made it clear the Apprentice Boys' action was both unilateral and unreasonable.''

``How can parades be refused in April 2000, August 2000 and November 2000 but then allowed in April 2001 when there has been absolutely no change?'' he asked.

``This week, the Parades Commission heard separately from the LOCC, our local parish priest, Sinn Fein and the SDLP. We have all said the same thing, that the parade is not wanted, that it is not in no way justified and that it has the potential to cause serious disturbances on the Lower Ormeau Road,'' said Gerard.

The Commission has simply ignored the views of the entire spectrum of nationalist opinion, said the residents' spokesperson. ``Their arrogance is breathtaking.''

The local residents' group believes this is a political decision and one which has little to do with the Ormeau Road and everything to do with getting the Orange Order down the Garvaghy Road. ``This is a dress rehearsal for Garvaghy,'' said Gerard. ``The Parades Commission has shoehorned the facts to fit a political agenda and this is very bad news for nationalists everywhere, particularly those living in the Lower Ormeau and Garvaghy Road.''
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