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18 December 1997 Edition

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Derry shut down for Apprentice Boys March

RUC attack on peaceful protesters sparks rioting in city centre

By Martha McClelland

ON one of the busiest shopping days of the year, the RUC closed off Derry city centre from early Saturday morning to facilitate a march by thousands of Apprentice Boys

Double rows of RUC Land Rovers blocked off all streets while a `cordon sanitaire' was created for the Boys to march through the Diamond. Workers were prevented from going to their work, and at least one NUJ journalist was prevented from entering the sealed area to report the news.

Many residents of the predominantly nationalist inner city spent lengthy periods trying to get back to their homes with their groceries and shopping.

11.00am Derry city centre was a ghost town. An eerie silence descended. Frustrated local residents who tried to get in early for the weekend shopping but were refused admittance into their own town.

Meanwhile, in Shipquay Street, a full three hours before the Apprentice Boys were due to march, RUC personnel in riot gear were pushing back a small crowd of peaceful nationalist residents from the top of the street and into Castle Street.

As the crowd appeared opposite the lower entrance to the Richmond Centre, the steel shutters were shut down. Frightened shoppers found themselves sealed into the building.

Squeals from outside could be heard as the RUC pushed people down the street.

Pandemonium ensued. Mothers were separated from small children, who screamed and panicked. Several older people had panic attacks from the claustrophobic conditions. Shops shutand some staff fled.

Security staff then began sweeping all the shoppers out through the back entrance. Outside, buskers carrying guitar cases, artisans selling jewellery and Big Issue vendors alike packed up hurriedly and joined the flood of panic-stricken shoppers.

11.30am Those shoppers who had managed to get into the Richmond Centre counted themselves lucky, but when about 25 tried to exit the building at Ferryquay Street, a cordon of RUC with dogs blocked their path. When a number insisted on their right to leave, the RUC charged, with Alsatians. As the Manager hit the button to close the steel shutters.several people tried to hold them open. The people were trapped and the RUC freely allowed the dogs on them.

12.00 noon Two `horse boxes' for carrying prisoners joined the double rows of Land Rovers blocking Shipquay Street. People taking refuge on the Derry Walls at Ferryquay Gate were re-routed by baton-wielding RUC - a subtle message reinforced up by snarling dogs.

In a sinister incident at Butcher Street an Irish News reporter questioned the identity of a non-journalist allowed past the RUC cordon to the Bogside. The RUC told the journalist that the man was an `observer.' The man, who was shortly to be recognised as a loyalist, proceeded to photograph nationalists at the cordon until he was chased back by local residents.

1.30pm A number of young people managed to get onto the roof of the Richmond centre and unfurled a banner calling for the RUC to be disbanded.

2.00pm With a massive RUC presence on the ground and a helicopter above, the Apprentice Boys began marching with their bands, including the `Greyabbey Hardcore.' Not content with a Red Hand on their Lambeg drum, theirs was portrayed dripping with blood.

As several hard-line bands appeared, three of them, including the CCM 3rd Battalion UVF Band from Belfast, the Skeogh Flute Band from Co Down, and the South Belfast Warriors, proved beyond the control of Apprentice Boys stewards, playing provocative tunes loudly. When senior Apprentice Boy Billy Moore tried to quieten them, he was attacked and kicked on the ground. A photographer was also attacked. An RUC woman, heavily padded in protective gear, was led away overcome with fright.

Apprentice Boys were cautioned not to talk to journalists, but one muttered `Blame those boys up on the roof' for the trouble - a point that may seem lost on Billy Moore and the RUC woman as they recover from their battering at the hands of the `Warriors'.

3 00pm A crowd had gathered at the outer cordon in Shipquay Street. A British Telecom van and two Ulsterbuses had been hijacked and used. as barriers to protect the crowd from being rammed by RUC vehicles.

Sinn Féin personnel tried to keep matters calm but the anger caused by the RUC shutting down the city and abusing shoppers proved impossible to contain.


Apprentice Boys, RUC spark riots

by Laura Friel

By mid-afternoon, the stage was set, as nationalists, coralled into Shipquay Street, finally responded to Crown force provocation. Vehicles, which had been thrown across the road to thwart attempts by the RUC to ram the crowd with Land Rovers, were set alight. For over twelve hours unarmed nationalists battled with the RUC and British Army. For the first time since the restoration of the IRA ceasefire, British soldiers were back on the streets of Derry.

Over 160 plastic bullets were fired, with nationalists responding with bottles, stones and petrol bombs. The most seriously injured was a 11-year-old boy who was taken to Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital with head injuries.

A fire at a Derry department store raged unabated as fire chiefs waited for staff to return from their annual Christmas outing to Donegal. As dawn broke, the estimated cost of forcing an Orange parade through a nationalist city was running into millions of pounds.

Traders complained of lost revenue as the city came to a standstill and shoppers were denied access. ``The Apprentice Boys,'' said one leading businessman, Garvan O'Doherty, ``cannot dominate the city centre as they have done for years with all the detrimental effects this has on trade...This disruption of one of the busiest days of the year cannot be allowed to go on.''

Sinn Fein's Gerry O'hEara described the RUC as a sectarian force. ``I can understand the frustration of young people of Derry who were savagely attacked by baton wielding RUC who set Alsation dogs on them.'' Martin McGuinness said that ``the reality of life for nationalists in the North of Ireland is that we do not have equal rights, we are certainly not treated either fairly or equally.''

Meanwhile the Bogside Residents Group revealed they had offered a last minute deal to the Apprentice Boys but it was rejected.''It would have meant in practice that the Apprentice Boys would have achieved 95% of what they wanted to do with general consensus. Instead they choose 100% of what they wanted without consensus.''


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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