20 March 1997 Edition

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Trade Unionists support Harryville massgoers

A TRADES UNIONIST WHO attended last Saturday's United Against Bigotry (UAB) demonstration at Our Lady's church in Harryville spoke to An Phoblacht after the demonstration and told us why he had gone to support the Catholic parishoners of Ballymena who have been subjected to a 27 week picket by loyalists.

The man said the trade union movement does not do enough to tackle the sectarianism that exists in the Six Counties. Indeed the ICTU refused to support Saturday's demonstration despite the fact that all those taking part are members of the trade union movement. They declined because they didn't want to get involved in a political issue. However members of Unison from Brent, Manchester and other English trades unionists did attend the demo in an official capacity and said they were glad to be in Ireland to support the Catholics of Ballymena.

On the road to Ballymena, the sixty or so demonstrators on the bus were anxious, not knowing what lay in store for them.

One of the organisers assured the travellers that UAB had been in touch with the RUC who agreed to escort them to the chapel.

``Arriving at Ballymena the RUC directed us to the carpark at the B and Q retail store, but after disembarking and getting ready to head into Harryville we were told that management at the store was refusing to allow the bus to park there,'' said our source.

He also said that as they waited to walk into the town they were taunted by people driving in and out of B and Q, ``once they saw our banners they just started abusing us''.

``There was an obvious tension as we walked to the church and as we got closer people actually came out of houses to shout at us. We were accused of being a `Sinn Fein/IRA' front and told to `go home, you don't understand what is happening here'.

``I was shocked at the venom directed at us, someone shouted `go home and clean your kitchen'.

An Phoblacht asked the man for his view of some media reports that suggested their demonstration was unwelcome. ``Well, an SDLP councillor, PJ McEvoy, remonstrated with the organisers saying we had no right to bring a political demonstration into church grounds,'' he said, ``but when mass ended almost all those leaving shook hands with us and thanked us for coming. They seemed genuinely appreciative of our presence''.

As mass was going on a crowd of loyalists attacked the RUC with bricks and bottles although it was a fairly minor incident. ``It just notched up the tension for when we were leaving. The RUC said the buses (a bus carrying Trades Unionists from Derry also supported the UAB protest) might be attacked so everyone was forced to keep their heads down as we left Ballymena''.

Those who attended the demonstration felt genuinely glad to have attended and to have done something to support a beleagured community. Hopefully the Trade Union movement as a whole will take a leaf out of their book.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1