AP front 1 - 2022

26 June 2003 Edition

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A 'peaceful' march?

Amid nationalist fears and an admission from a senior Orangeman that loyalists might be preparing to "take the law into their own hands", a controversial Orange Order march eventually passed along the nationalist Springfield Road in West Belfast without serious incident this past Saturday.

Although the implied threat of violence remained, at around 3pm more than 850 bandsmen and members of the Orange Order made their way onto the nationalist Springfield Road, as 1,000 nationalist protesters stood watching silently from behind lines of PSNI officers in riot gear.

As the Orangemen emerged from the peace line gates at Workman Avenue, a line of nationalists held up a banner reading, "Orange: It's good to talk." The banner was a reference to the Orangemen's refusal to speak directly to nationalist residents or the Parades Commission about alternative routes for the march.

This year's march was in stark contrast to events on the Springfield Road last summer, when there were serious clashes between state forces and nationalist residents. During violent confrontations, 26 plastic bullets were fired - three of them striking demonstrators.

In an effort to avoid problems this year, the Springfield Road Residents' Group generously offered a compromise that would have allowed Orangemen to pass up the Springfield without opposition.

The five-point plan included a request that Orangmen take a slightly altered route through the disused Mackie's industrial estate instead of entering the area from the peaceline gates at Workman Avenue. The suggested route would have meant that unionists would have emerged onto the Springfield Road less than 200 metres from where they normally would.

But the compromise was ignored by Orangemen, who refused to engage with either Catholic residents or the Parades Commission on the matter.

Furious nationalists then accused the Parades Commission of buckling under unionist pressure when the march was once again allowed to proceed without dialogue or the consent of the residents.

On Saturday, as nationalists stood by in a dignified silent protest, Orangemen flaunted their utter contempt for both their Catholic neighbours and the Parades Commission by ignoring the commission's determination for the march. Loyalist band music was played and Ulster Volunteer Force and Young Citizen Volunteers flags were carried. Many of those who took part were also wearing unionist paramilitary dress, and several participating bands sported UVF insignias on their tunics.

Also in attendance was a loyalist band named in memory of dead UVF man Brian Robinson, shot dead by undercover British soldiers only minutes after he and another loyalist had killed Catholic man Patrick McKenna in North Belfast in 1989.

Within an hour of the march, the media was already trumpheting that it had passed off "peacefully", but Catholic residents on the Springfield Road felt differently.

Although there had been no violence for a change, residents were still forced to endure massive saturation by state forces and 24 hours of stress and tension as they waited for the parade to go by. Their anxiety remained high even after the march had passed.

"It's not just the march itself that could mean trouble," said one resident. "It's what happens in the hours after it passes. If loyalist hangers-on are about they could look to start something. It could be right afterwards or hours later, late that night. We never know."

"These marches only serve to highten the tensions between our two communities when they are forced through nationalist areas," said another. "And you can't get anything done. You are afraid to go out and leave the area for fear something might happen when you are gone. You can't go about your business until the road is finally clear. It disrupts your whole day."

Hundreds of PSNI vehicles and a vast line of riot gear clad PSNI men stretched across the road.

Springfield residents' spokesperson, Frances McAuley, said that while nationalists were relieved no violence had broken out, her group would be making several formal complaints to the Parades Commission about the breaches of restrictions Orangemen were supposed to abide by during the march.

"There were a number of UVF flags on view and a band from the UVF's junior wing - the Young Citizen Volunteers - took part," she said. "We will also be highlighting the fact that there were a number of undue stoppages during the parade, which are also in contravention of the Commission's ruling. These transgressions were witnessed and noted by an authorised officer from the Commission, who was present at the march.

"Nationalists offered compromise over Saturday's parade, and it was rejected out of hand by the Orange Order. There is an even bigger onus on the Parades Commission now to show that nationalists can live free from intimidation and ban any more Orange parades on the Springfield until the Orange Order engage in meaningful dialogue with the Springfield residents' group."

Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley praised the restraint of nationalist protesters and called on the Parades Commission to ensure that the Orange Order engaged in dialogue with nationalists for future marches.

Springfield residents say that as a result of past and recent transgressions, the unionist march scheduled for 12 July should be banned from the Springfield Road.

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