New side advert

17 July 1997 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

People power

People power

It was the people power of democratic forces in the Six Counties which defused the crisis over Orange marches last weekend. Those forces ensured that the people of the Lower Ormeau Road were not subjected to the ordeal of those on the Garvaghy Road on 6 July.

It was not the generosity of the Orange Order which produced the result. It was certainly not the action of the British government which had rewarded Orange bigotry by forcing the parade down the Garvaghy Road.

The Orange leadership decided that the `principle' which had to be upheld at all costs on Garvaghy Road could be abandoned on Lower Ormeau. The difference? Orangemen were made aware by RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan that such was the scale of nationalist anger that the streets would be filled with people and the British Army and RUC would be stretched to the limit.

On Wednesday 9 July thousands of people from all over the North converged on the Garvaghy Road to salute the bravery of this beleagured community. The following night people were out in massive numbers again to express solidarity with the people of the Lower Ormeau. This was just a foretaste of street mobilisations to come on Friday and Saturday in Belfast, Derry, Newry, Armagh and other centres if the Orange Order had insisted on insulting nationalist communities.

The British would not be allowed to brutalise a nationalist community in the manner in which thousands of RUC and British soldiers brutalised Garvaghy residents to facilitate an Orange march.

The next step for the Orange Order after their decision which was widely welcomed is to open up to real dialogue with residents' representatives so that the marching issue can be resolved finally in a democratic way.


Unionism under pressure


Two main factors led to the decision by the Orange Order not to march down Lower Ormeau Road. First and foremost was the knowledge that the mass mobilisation of nationalists across the Six Counties which had been seen in the wake of Drumcree 3 would be reproduced in even greater numbers to prevent the Lower Ormeau and Derry Orange parades as well as in smaller nationalist centres.

The leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party, including former leader and member of the British Privy Council Jim Molyneaux were involved in meetings on Thursday 10 July which led to the announcement. RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan went to the Orange Order headquarters in Belfast that evening with Molyneaux.

It is not difficult to imagine what was said. Flanagan, backed by Molyneaux, would have outlined to the Orangemen the huge challenge being faced by the RUC with nationalists mobilising in their tens of thousands in Belfast, Derry and other centres. The previous week on the Garvaghy Road a small nationalist community could be besieged and contained while the RUC and British army in massive force made way for the Orange parade.

This could not have been done so easily in Belfast and Derry, and the British army and RUC would have been stretched to breaking point in nationalist districts across the North. Forcing the parade down the Lower Ormeau and through Derry city centre would have escalated the situation beyond the control of the British government. The credibility of both the Labour government and the unionists would have been very seriously damaged.

The other lesser factor involved in the decision was the differences which exist within Orangeism and unionism. Many unionists were alienated from the Orange Order by three years of Drumcree stand-offs. Different tendencies exist within both the UUP and the Orange Order. A hugely escalated crisis over the insistence on marching through nationalist districts could have widened these divisions.

The decision not to march was by no means the generous-spirited gesture that was portrayed in the media. The Ballynafeigh Orange Lodge reserved their `right' to parade on the Lower Ormeau. There was no question of reaching an accommodation with the residents. To emphasise the point that it was a decision forced on them by their `elders' they refused to participate in the Belfast parade. And in a bitterly sectarian statement the County Grand Lodge of Belfast pointed to the motivation for the decision. It deplored ``the failure of Her Majesty's government to provide adequate security against the threat of pan-nationalist violence, orchestrated by Sinn Féin/IRA and fronted by convicted terrorists''.

The Belfast statement urged unionist politicans to ``unite and immediately withdraw from the `talks process' until, such times as our government deals once and for all with Roman Catholic republicanism''.


Anger and determination in Derry

By Martha McClelland

Derry nationalists were in a deeply angry mood after Drumcree 3. They'd seen it all before and Mo Mowlam's betrayal was only Britain's latest `theme with variations'. Derry's determination to face up to the prospect of 20,000 Orangemen arriving on Saturday meant that by Thursday night, nationalists of all ages were organised to support those in the Ormeau Road in a disciplined and strategic manner on the streets.

The city centre became a ghost town as Friday approached. When the Orange Order announced that it would not march in Derry and three other flashpoints, the community heaved a collective sigh of relief. People who'd spent their week at meetings and planned to stay up all night meeting the Orange challenge relaxed.

Very few were at The Diamond on Saturday morning for the Orange march. The Orange organisers announced that only the local Orange Lodge from the Fountain was to march from the Cityside, via London Street across to the Waterside. This met with no objection from the Bogside Residents Group, in view of their guiding principles published earlier that week.

Instead, local Orange supporters, angry with their leadership's re-routing, brought along eight bands and extra people, and blocked the designated route. Eventually RUC and British Army personnel and vehicles, keeping them from the Diamond, rolled back to create a gap through which the Orange marchers and the eight bands poured. Six nationalists were bludgeoned off the street that morning as they lay down in front of the armoured cars and then tried to physically hold them back with bare hands. The RUC used boots, batons and fists to clear the road. One man, disabled from his gunshot wounds on Bloody Sunday, was batoned to the ground. The Orangemen marched out across the Bridge as usual with their bands that morning.

Donncha MacNiallais described this as ``an act of bad faith'' by the Orange Order, asserting that ``the scenes at the Doiamond could and should have been avoided.'' In the afternoon, hundreds of angry, wary but disciplined nationalists appeared in The Diamond around 4pm, to observe and monitor the Orange marchers' behaviour if and when they tried to march again in the Diamond, contrary to their agreement.

They left around 7:30pm after it became clear that the Orange marchers, apart from the Fountain Lodge, were not being allowed across the Bridge. After the Fountain Lodge returned and dispersed quietly, protestors took Martin McGuinness's advice and dispersed in a disciplined manner.

Later that night, a number of very young people, later joined by drinkers from the pubs, rioted and threw a few petrol bombs and burnt out two cars.

Youths attack RUC in Creggan

After the RUC found 500 lbs of unprimed explosive packed in bins in Derry's Southway area, local youths, angry at the RUC's large scale search operation which involved the evacuation of all of High Park, attacked them with stones. A large area from High Park, to Termonbacca, and including Rathowen Park, Rathlin Drive and Rathkeele Way was sealed off for some hours and the search operation continued from sunset until the early hours of the morning. Several young people were arrested.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

Powered by Phoenix Media Group