4 June 1998 Edition
RUC provoked Garvaghy trouble
An Phoblacht has learned that the RUC told the Parades Commission that last Saturday's Junior Orange Order parade on Portadown's Garvaghy Road was non-contentious, despite it having a history of trouble. When later asked by a Parades Commission Authorised officer to place restrictions on the parade, the RUC refused. They then turned out in force - in full riot gear and with twenty jeeps - to police the parade. They arrived at 7.30am to confront nationalist residents and stayed all day despite pleas from local councillors to end their provocation.
At 6.25pm the RUC baton-charged a peaceful nationalist protest, which later led to rioting in the area.
Nationalists from the Garvaghy Road are furious that they have been branded as the instigators of the trouble and they have accused the media of peddling the RUC version of events.
Garvaghy trouble provoked by RUC
By Peadar Whelan
Local residents and international journalists have expressed outrage at the distorted version of events that has appeared in the media following the combined loyalist, Orange, RUC and British Army attack on the Garvaghy Road community last weekend. Their anger centres on the media's acceptance of the RUC's version of events, the portrayal of nationalists as the instigators and claims in certain sections of the media that ``republicans are to launch a propaganda attack on the RUC''.
Speaking to residents and international journalists after the RUC and loyalists left 14 wounded following Saturday's `junior' Orange parade, An Phoblacht has discovered the true version of events.
Local councillor Brendan MacCoinnaith confirmed that in the run up to Saturday's parade, the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition were only notified of the march on Wednesday. MacCoinnaith was then contacted on Thursday by the head of the Parades Commission, Alistair Graham, who said the commission viewed the march as non-contentious.
MacCoinnaith tried to explain to Graham that the march not only had a history of confrontation, but the NIO was also in the process of building a `peacewall' in the area due to attacks on nationalists. The councillor pointed out that the adjoining King Street and Park Road both had a history of attacks on residents. MacCoinnaith told Graham that ``not one week goes past without trouble.''
MacCoinnaith also confirmed that he talked to the local Parades Commission Authorised officer, who attempted to persuade the RUC to place restrictions on the march. They refused to do this. Alistair Graham apparently reached his decision based soley on RUC reports that the march was non-contentious, without prior dialogue with local residents.
Later in the week MacCoinnaith spoke to the RUC sub-divisional commander, Bailie, about incidents on Obins Drive earlier in the week. MacCoinnaith also attempted to discuss the march with the RUC man but was curtly told that it was not up for negotiation as the Parades Commission had ruled that it was non-contentious, despite the fact that the RUC has been forced to constantly patrol the area.
British Army and riot clad RUC units dressed in black entered Castle Street and the park in the lower Garvaghy Road area at 7.30am, 90 minutes before the Orange march was due to pass under the Shillington and Railway Bridges past many nationalist homes. They would stay the whole day. With over 20 jeeps in the park, councillor Joe Duffy was forced to plead with the RUC and British Army to vacate the park at 3.30pm in an attempt to defuse the anger of young people of the area.
The morning march passed off relatively quietly as the crown force units remained in formation at the top of Castle Street and the Orange `boys' left without turning on local residents. But tension in an area that has seen loyalist attacks on Obins Drive throughout the previous week and has too much experience of crown force saturation and state violence could only increase.
When the `junior' Orange parade returned later that evening it was accompanied not only by 500-600 loyalists who congregated under the two brigdes but also by a number of `blood and thunder' bands including the Portadown Young Defenders, who had been banned by the Orange Order since 1992 when it broke ranks and attacked local people on the Garvaghy Road.
An Icelandic film crew was visiting the area to make a film about the prospects for peace following the referendum vote. They ended up being stranded in the middle of this loyalist crowd. They reported being threatened and abused by the crowd, who they described as ``drunken''.
An hour and 40 minutes later, the peaceful nationalist protest was disrupted by the first RUC baton charge, at 6.25pm. MacCoinnaith told An Phoblacht that as he requested that the RUC get a senior officer to the scene to defuse the situation, a young child nicked a baton from an unsuspecting RUC man. The youngster then threw the baton among the nationalist protesters and when a man bent down to pick it up the RUC broke formation and charged.
The first man to be beaten, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that as he turned to intervene between two children and an RUC man he was lashed about the head and body with a baton. The man said, ``you could see it was going to happen. You could see the hate on their faces.'' He asked, ``why did they [the crown forces] stay in, they kept up the tension. There was no call for them to be here all day.''
Dara O'Hagan, the SF assembly candidate for the area, said that eight people were injured by plastic bullets and another two received serious baton injuries. She said that two had been shot in the chest, one in the stomach and one freelance cameraman was hit in the elbow as he was taking pictures. She added, ``these injuries indicate that plastic bullets were fired above waist height, in contravention of RUC guidelines.''
A second RUC baton charge occurred at around 7.45 when the RUC attempted to clear the road to allow the marchers through. According to O'Hagan one man was attacked on his Castle Street doorstep by loyalists as the RUC stood idly by. One witness reported seeing one RUC man remove his helmet and throw it to the ground saying he was ``totally disgusted''. The injured man is expected to be in hospital for at least six weeks with a shattered hip, broken leg, dislocated elbow and severe brusing.
One Castle Street witness said that ``loyalists laden down with carryouts'' threatened to burn `Catholic bastards out'.
A resident who witnessed the entire RUC attack from the nearby Costcutters saw one man shot in the chest as be returned to the adjacent pub from the bookies. She described how she saw his snooker partner looking for him as he lay on the ground, ``bleeding heavily, snow-white and unable to breath''.
Far from being a riot situation, local residents said that at no time were there more than 20 youths throwing stones and that no more than two petrol bombs were thrown. Most seriously they say that the RUC opened fire with plastic bullets well before any missiles were thrown. Residents also claim that no blast bombs were thrown, rather there were two incidents of fire crackers inside tin cans being thrown.
MacCoinnaith also said that an orderly at the local hospital had said that no crown force members had been brought in on the day in question despite RUC claims that a number of their personnel had been injured.
Despite media reports that there was six hours of rioting, residents claim that there were only two RUC instigated clashes over a ninety minute period and that by 9pm the Garvaghy Road was quiet as the RUC had scattered people off the road at 7.45pm. Residents also claim that the later trouble was totally separate and occurred at around 2.45am as drunken youths burnt a van in Park Road.
An American freelance film-maker also reported having her film confiscated by the RUC.
Dara O'Hagan was part of the Sinn Fein delegation which met Tony Blair at Stormont on Tuesday. She told him of the anger Garvaghy Road residents feel at Saturday's attack by the RUC on their community and the use of plastic bullets on peaceful nationalist protestors.
After the meeting Dara O'Hagan said, ``Garvaghy Road should be the starting point where the politics of exclusion, of marginalisation and second class citizenship are left behind for ever.'' She called on ``both the Orange Order and David Trimble to take up the repeated offers of local residents to meet with them.''
The Mayor of Drogheda has promised to highlight the need to support the residents of Portadown's Garvaghy Road.
Tommy Murphy (Fianna Fáil), Mayor of Drogheda, met a delegation of Garvaghy Road residents in the Council Chambers on 20 May. He said ``It is now important to support a peaceful solution to the problems of the north. All must be treated equally. People must have peace and security in their own estates. They must have the freedom to walk into their own town''.
The deputation was led by Independent Councillor Breandan Mac Cionnaith.
Life behind the wire
A wire fence which was erected to protect Nationalists of Obins Drive and Edgarstown in Portadown has been torn down by loyalists in their escalating campaign of attacks against the residents.
A number of residents have been hospitalised and had their houses and cars damaged in recent weeks during the attacks which have included bricks, bottles and wooden poles being thrown at them.
Appeals to the housing executive to take action have proved useless. One resident Georgina Larkin said ``When we said we wanted a proper steel fence erected, we were told it couldn't be done because it might be dangerous - that it might blow down. Did you ever hear anything so stupid in your life?''
Portadown - hate capital of the North
By Sean O'Tuama
In the latest of a series of attacks on Nationalist homes in Portadown a young mother and her eighteen month old daughter narrowly escaped injury on Thursday night 28 May.
In the attack a stone crashed through the toddler's bedroom window as she was being put to bed, spraying mother and child with glass. Fortunately neither was injured.
``We were very lucky,'' said the woman who wishes not to be named. She said there have been a number of attacks on Nationalist homes in the area by youths from the loyalist Corcrain Estate. ``There is a wall and a fence that is supposed to stop them getting over, but they are just breaking that. We have had shouts of abuse, unbelievable things. They have shouted things about Robert Hamill's murder.''
The woman and a neighbour whose home was also attacked have both applied for emergency rehousing by the Housing Executive.