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18 July 2002 Edition

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Crown forces pile into Springfield Road residents

BY LAURA FRIEL



An eleven-year-old schoolgirl was taken to Grosvenor Road barracks and was illegally questioned and forcibly fingerprinted despite the fact that she was a minor.

A clearly pregnant woman, who pleaded for the safety of her unborn child, was deliberately batoned in the stomach by the PSNI/RUC and had to be rushed to hospital.

A Catholic man was beaten, thrown into a jeep by the PSNI, driven to a loyalist area where he feared he might be handed over to a loyalist mob, before being released without charge.

These are just three reasons why nationalist residents on the Springfield Road view the PSNI as nothing more than the RUC in another guise. All three incidents occurred on 12 July and were part of a PSNI and British Army operation to facilitate an illegal Orange Order parade through a nationalist area of West Belfast.

According to legislation governing parades in the north of Ireland, at least 14 days notice must be given prior to any proposed march. By 3pm on 11 July, just a few hours before the Orange Order intended to march into nationalist West Belfast, no application had been forthcoming.

At the time, a spokesperson for the Springfield Residents, Action Group, Frances McAuley, said residents would be "watching with interest to see how this particular legal difficulty is overcome".

Earlier in the week, the residents had officially withdrawn from a process of consultation with the Parades Commission after a number of proposals by the community were rejected out of hand.

"We are not prepared to facilitate, as we have done in previous years, the Orange Order's march through our area - we have seen every attempt at an accommodation thrown back in our face," Frances McAuley had said.

Residents called for the Orange Order to reroute away from the flashpoint area of Workman's Avenue to the former Mackies site.

To appreciate the bizarre lengths to which the British government and relevant authorities are prepared to go in order to force an anti-Catholic parade through a Catholic neighbourhood, a little knowledge of local geography is necessary.

Access to the nationalist Springfield Road from the loyalist Ainsworth Avenue is only possible through a gate in the peace wall. The gate, which is wide enough for vehicles to pass through, is permanently welded shut with the exception of two days a year.

One day in June and on 12 July, British Army engineers break the seal to facilitate three Orange Order marches into nationalist West Belfast. The soldiers return to reweld the gate after the parades.

This year, despite the fact that Orangemen had even failed to meet the legal requirements necessary, the PSNI and British Army mounted a massive military operation to enable 12 Orangemen to breach a peace wall and march along the nationalist Springfield Road.

According to local residents, the scale of the military operation even rivalled that at Drumcree. The unprovoked ferocity with which a peaceful protest by local residents was baton charged and fired upon by PSNI officers and British soldiers (firing over 40 plastic bullets) certainly rivalled Drumcree.

Despite the fact that Orangemen pelted members of the PSNI riot squad and the British Army with bricks and breeze blocks, only three plastic bullets were fired at Drumcree.

At one moment during the sustained Crown force assault on the Springfield Road, by contrast, one PSNI officer was overheard boasting that he had fired 17 plastic bullets within a matter of minutes. Officially, the PSNI claim they 'only' fired 26 plastic bullets.

Describing the PSNI offensive as a "total and absolute onslaught", local community worker Sean O'Hare said the PSNI's actions on the Springfield Road, compared to their softly, softly approach at Drumcree, "shows that the PSNI continues to act in a sectarian way against the nationalist community".

Tensions within the West Belfast community, already running high, had been further fuelled when earlier in the day eleven-year-old schoolgirl Leanne Dillon had been arrested and taken to Grosvenor barracks. The child is believed to have been involved in a minor incident during which a small stick had been throw towards a PSNI patrol.

Instead of seeking out the child's parents, the PSNI immediately arrested her and she was driven away. At the barracks she was questioned, despite the fact that as a minor she was entitled to an accompanying adult. As if this wasn't sufficiently traumatic, although parental permission was refused, the child was forcibly fingerprinted before being released.

A short time later, the PSNI mounted a full-scale baton and plastic bullet attack against peaceful protestors. A young pregnant woman was standing beside a local SDLP councillor when a PSNI officer deliberately batoned her in the stomach.

Moments before the entirely unprovoked attack, the woman had informed the baton-wielding officer of her pregnancy and pleaded to be left alone. The PSNI officer's response was to smash his baton into her extended stomach. The woman was rushed to hospital where she was scanned before being allowed to return home.

John Leatham had been acting as an Observer when the PSNI baton charged protestors. John was chased onto waste ground, where he was batoned to the ground before being dragged along the ground and thrown into a PSNI jeep.

Despite the fact that John had not been arrested, he was detained for over 40 minutes in the jeep before being driven into the loyalist Lanark Way, where he feared that he was about to be handed over to a loyalist mob. John was released without charge.

Local Sinn Fein councillor Tom Hartley said it had been clear from the systematic build up of PSNI and other military vehicles and personnel that the decision had been taken to confront the residents' peaceful protest. The PSNI were 'heavy handed' and 'aggressive' said Hartley.

The Residents Action Group is currently seeking legal advice. "The entire blame for what happened on the Springfield Road on the Twelfth lies at the door of the Parades Commission who were determined to facilitate twelve Orangemen parading through a nationalist area," said Frances McAuley.


Sinn Féin calls for immediate action



Sinn Féin councillor for Ardoyne, Margaret McClenaghan has called for the immediate heightening of the interface fence at the back of houses at Alliance Avenue. The call came just hours after loyalist petrol bombers from Glenbryn attacked nationalist homes along the avenue.

"The row of houses in the middle of Alliance Avenue have borne the brunt of loyalist attacks from Glenbryn following the heightening of the fence further along the street," she said. "The fence should be heightened along the entire interface, rather than place the lives of young families at risk."
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An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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