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5 July 2001 Edition

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Parades Commission has no credibility on Springfield Road

Residents' wishes ignored again



BY LAURA FRIEL

``The Parades Commission had little credibility in this area,'' said John McGivern of the Springfield Residents Action Group, ``but since their decision last week their credibility has evaporated here.''

     
``The RUC, the armed wing of unionism, has intervened politically on behalf of the Orange Order to allow this march to go ahead.'' - Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley
He was speaking after the Parades Commission bowed to pressure from the RUC and abandoned its determination to ban Orange bands from parading along the nationalist Springfield Road.

The initial ruling was announced on Monday and the Orange march was set to parade from the Shankill to Woodvale Avenue, where the bands would split from the main body of the parade to walk through Ballysillan to the West Circular Road onto the Springfield Road facing the Farset Centre and on to their Orange Lodge.

The route scheduled for the bands had been accepted by local residents, as it largely avoided passing nationalist residential areas. Residents did object to the Parades Commission's decision to allow the main body of the parade to pass through the walled peace line at gates on Workman Avenue and onto the Springfield Road.

This route allowed Orangemen to parade through a nationalist area without entering into dialogue or seeking the consent of local people. Last year, the same Orange Parade flouted restrictions imposed by the Parades Commission and allowed a loyalist paramilitary colour party carrying sectarian flags to march through the nationalist area.

``On Wednesday, delegates from residents' group and their solicitor met with the Parades Commission to voice concern over the decision to allow Orangemen through the peaceline at Workman's Avenue,'' says John.

The gate in the 20-foot wall dividing the two communities is closed all year bar two occasions when it is opened to facilitate Orange marches into a Catholic area. ``It makes no sense,'' says John. The Parades Commission's response to the delegation was described as `hostile'.

``The delegation was told you have 15 minutes,'' says John, ``then ten minutes, five minutes and then the meeting was closed. The Parades Commission is always calling for dialogue but if you're a nationalist they don't want to listen.''

For nationalist residents living along the Springfield Road, the commission's decision to allow an Orange march, even without their `kick the Pope' bands, was traumatic enough and then the Parades Commission made it even worse.

On the eve of the scheduled Orange Parade, the Commission announced that it had revised its original determination and Orange bands would now be joining the main parade through an entrance at Mackies, an industrial plant situated along the peaceline less than 50 yards up from Workman's Avenue.

``It was an outrageous reversal,'' says John, ``and the last minute timing of the announcement allowed no time for the decision to be challenged.'' And residents were left with the pretence that delaying Orange bands from joining the main parade for less than two minutes amounted to the restriction being upheld.

A day prior to the announcement, the RUC was spotted mapping out the new route within the grounds of Mackies factory. A short time later, RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan met British Secretary of State John Reid and asked him to sign a requisition order turning over the Mackies site to the control of the RUC. Reid conceded.

``The RUC overruled the Parades Commission and the British government allowed it to happen,'' says John. ``There had been no mention of Mackies gates as a proposed route by the Orange Order. It was clearly an RUC initiative.''

At 6.30am on Saturday morning, the British Army moved into the nationalist Springfield Road area and began erecting wire above the peaceline. ``They claimed it was for our protection,'' says John, ``but we asked why had we not been protected when loyalists were throwing pipe and petrol bombs over the wall earlier in the year.''

At 11.30am, British Army lorries moved in at the corner of Elswick Street and the Springfield Road and began unloading concrete bollards with steel bar barriers and razor wire.

When a local man objected to the barricade being erected in his garden, he and his local councillor Tom Hartley were manhandled by RUC men in full riot gear and pushed aside. British Crown forces were already confronting local people, restricting their movements and ordering them inside their homes and it was still three hours before the Orange parade was scheduled to take place.

``Many people don't realise that an Orange parade might only take 20 minutes to pass but the intimidation of nationalists begins hours before and only ends hours later,'' says John. ``The whole day is disrupted and the entire neighbourhood is tense and unsettled for hours.

``If Orangemen could only respect the wishes of their Catholic neighbours and reroute their parades through their own areas, all this tension would no longer be necessary.''

Around 3pm, the Orange Order marched through the gates at Workman Avenue and onto the Springfield Road. A few moments later, they were joined by Orange bands arriving through the gates at Mackies factory. The bands had been instructed by the Parades Commission not to play within the nationalist residential area but this restriction was flouted.

Local Sinn Féin councillor Tom Hartley said the Parades Commission's decision was disgraceful. He sais it had again totally ignored the wishes and fears of the residents of the Springfield Road and also rewarded the Orange Order for their past breaches of their restrictions.

``What is also clear is that the RUC, the armed wing of unionism, has intervened politically on behalf of the Orange Order to allow this march to go ahead. This is an unacceptable situation for nationalists,'' said Hartley.

``British government complacency and the RUC Chief Constable's apparent advocacy on behalf of the Orange Order bodes ill for the coming weekend's Orange march to Drumcree. If the experience of Springfield Road residents is anything to go by, nationalist residents on the Garvaghy Road can take no comfort in the Parades Commission's announcement that Orangemen will not walk through their area.''
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