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21 March 2002 Edition

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Tension mounts on Lower Ormeau

BY PEADAR WHELAN


With the countdown to this year's first sectarian march, set for the Ormeau Road on Easter Monday, well underway, the Apprentice Boys of Derry organisation has still to respond to a request to reroute their parade.

In a letter to the Ballynafeigh loyalists, the relatives of those killed by the UDA in the Sean Graham's Bookies massacre asked the Apprentice Boys and Orange organisations to consider the feelings of the relatives "and recognise that parades are bound up with our suffering and to further recognise that parading in such a situation benefits neither marches nor residents".

Just days after they addressed the loyalist organisations, the relatives of the dead met with the Parades Commission. "It was an emotional meeting", said Gerard Rice, spokesperson for the Lower Ormeau community. "The relatives emphasised their opposition to sectarian parades past Sean Graham's Bookmakers and requested that the Commission respond positively and reroute all further parades away from the Road. The relatives felt it was important to meet in order for the Commission to hear at first hand the impact of sectarian parades on them and their families."

But with the refusal of the Apprentice Boys to officially respond to the relatives to date, the situation is growing more tense by the day. The Parades Commission will not issue its determination on the Easter Monday parade until next week, but there are fears that it will decide to force a march along the Lower Ormeau Road as it did last year. That parade was called off due to the Foot and Mouth crisis.

Gerard Rice explained that the Lower Ormeau Community had hoped that "the Apprentice Boys in Ballynafeigh and the leader of the Apprentice Boys in Derry, Billy Moore, would respond positively to this call from the relatives, despite the fact that there has been no direct contact between ourselves and the Apprentice Boys for over two years".

Rice said residents were concerned that "despite having done absolutely nothing to try and resolve this issue the Apprentice Boys are once again about to be rewarded with a parade on the Lower Ormeau Road and that wider political considerations, rather than parades commission criteria, are being allowed to dictate whether or not parades occur on the Lower Ormeau Road".

Against this backdrop, the Parades Commission decided on Friday 15 March, to prevent an AOH St Patrick's Day parade from passing the British War Memorial in the County Down village of Kilkeel.


And the recently refurbished memorial to those killed in Sean Graham's was attacked and damaged by loyalists. This is the third time the memorial, refurbished in February, the tenth anniversary of the massacre, has been attacked by loyalists, who escaped in the direction of Ballynafeigh.
In this latest attack, carried out in the early hours of 18 March, the loyalists attempted to pull down the newly erected railings around the plaque, bottles were thrown at and broken in and around the the memorial and floral tributes left by relatives were strewn around the street.

"It appears that the people who murdered the five men and boys in Sean Graham's bookmakers are not content to see this community pay their respects to their to their loved ones and want to inflict more pain and suffering on the families they have already grievously injured," said Rice.
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