31 May 2001 Edition

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Parades Commission blamed for Garvaghy trouble

BY PEADAR WHELAN

``The Parades Commission must shoulder full responsibility for the outcome of last Saturday's Junior Orange Parade on the Garvaghy Road,'' says Dara O'Hagan, Sinn Féin Assembly member and Westminster election candidate for Upper Bann.

Claims by the RUC that 57 of its members were injured during disturbances on the Garvaghy Road last Saturday 26 May are an attempt by that force to distort the true picture of what happened in Portadown on the day, she adds.

In the trouble that ensued along the lower Garvaghy Road on Saturday a number of petrol bombs were thrown and apart from one that was thrown onto an RUC jeep from a distance of two yards, none came close to hitting and injuring any RUC member.

Nevertheless, the RUC fired plastic bullets at nationalists and baton charged up the road in response and as they charged up the road, anyone unfortunate enough to get in their way was batoned. Residents fought back and in a series of running hand to hand scuffles forced the RUC to retreat.

It may well be that the reason the RUC attempted to portray its members as `victims' in this scenario was down to the fact that unarmed residents stood up to them and took them on. It is worth pointing out that of all the media outlets that reported the attack on the RUC, only an Irish Times reporter was present.

All the other media based their reports on what the RUC press office said.

The RUC and British Army moved into the Garvaghy Road area early on Saturday morning and kept a presence along the road all day. This presence was described as, ``provocative'', by spokesperson for the residents Breandan Mac Cionnaith, while Dara O'Hagan accused the RUC and British Army of being involved in, ``many incidents of petty harassment''.

As the Junior Orange marchers concluded their day with their ritualistic `parade' up the town end of the Garvaghy Road, nationalist youths began to gather. The potential for trouble was heightened by the fact that with Celtic playing to complete the treble of Scottish soccer trophies, some people had been watching the match in local pubs.

Having said that the reality is that this annual ritualist abuse of the nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road was endorsed by the Parades Commission who refused to heed the advice of a Sinn Féin delegation.

In a meeting with the Commission, held on Thursday 17 May and attended by Dara O'Hagan and party colleagues Noel Mercer and Brian McGeown, the Commission was made aware of nationalist feeling.

``We told the Commission that the parade was contentious and that given the refusal of parade organisers to enter into dialogue and the inevitable presence of the RUC and British Army during the day, trouble was a near certainty,'' said O'Hagan. ``The use of plastic bullets by the RUC can be contrasted to their non-use on the same night by British police in Oldham. Also the speed with which the RUC reacted to the trouble on Garvaghy Road should be compared with their refusal to deal with the sustained attacks they face at Drumcree itself every year.''

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