Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

6 August 1998 Edition

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Derry welcomes march deal

By Martha McClelland

Widespread relief welcomed the accommodation reached on Monday after a three-day marathon negotiation session involving the Bogside Residents and the Apprentice Boys.

Although Apprentice Boys still refused to talk directly with the residents' group, proximity talks resulted in their agreement to re-route their parade in Derry on Saturday and accept restrictions on controversial `feeder' parades through nationalist areas in Bellaghy, Lower Ormeau Road, Dunloy and Roslea. The Parades Commission has banned a parade in Newtownbulter altogether.

In response, the Bogside Residents have called off their planned protest and accepted local Apprentice Boys plus one band, silent until it passes the Bogside, marching once around the Walls during the early morning. The main parade will be allowed into the city centre but in such a way as to keep the city open. Parent clubs only will be allowed to march around the Diamond in the morning, and at one point in the afternoon a token thirteen Apprentice Boys will be allowed to walk around the Diamond to lay a wreath at the War Memorial on behalf of the entire organisation.

Community-wide tension held Derry in suspense until Monday's accommodation was announced. The `Shared City' Forum was a total failure. Set up reluctantly last year after demands by local residents to prevent an endless repetition of last year's violence. It failed to meet again until two weeks ago, and although Unionists and Loyal Orders did sit down in the same room with local residents, they refused to meet in a practical working party on the parade issue. The Forum adjourned without result.

Fearing the consequences for the city after the Forum failed, and against the backdrop of total inactivity for a year on the issue - and with certain prominent nationalist politicians telling residents to ``just stay in their homes and ignore the parade'' - some business, community and church leaders became involved in efforts to resolve the situation. The responsibility they showed in taking action contributed very positively to the final result.

Proximity negotiations were held in a secret location, with a media blackout and with facilitators travelling between the three-person negotiating teams with proposals and responses. Despite this `shuttle' mediation, agreement looked unlikely until the very end of the three day marathon. Negotiations began at 3pm on Saturday and went non-stop until Sunday morning at 7:30. Reconvening on Monday morning, hopes of resolution looked slim, with the fear that the Parades Commission would impose a ruling. Just before 2pm, agreement was announced.

Donncha MacNiallais, Bogside residents spokesperson, welcomed the decision, saying, ``Although we would have preferred face-to-face talks, the Apprentice Boys took a significant step forward by engaging in negotiations. This result shows what can happen when people enter into dialogue in a meaningful way. If this had been applied to the Drumcree situation, we may not have experienced the tragedies that occurred.''

Alistair Simpson, Governor of the Apprentice Boys, noted that ``the understanding reached maintained the dignity of the Derry celebrations.''

Outlining an imaginative vision of potential Apprentice Boys parades, he said, ``We want Derry days to be friendly days for all the people of the city...we hope that (the Deal) will lead to a bumper day of fun for everyone in Derry.''

Back to real life, Deputy Mayor Sinn Féin Councillor Lynn Fleming, commended the strenuous efforts of the BRG leadership, going back some years now, to ensure peace in the city during parade times. ``The Bogside Residents Group leadership has been positive and flexible. I hope that this will be reciprocated by the Apprentice Boys, and that the RUC presence will be kept to an absolute minimum.''

Undertakings have been given by the RUC to ``respond appropriately'' to the new situation. They have agreed to freedom of access to the city, with Butcher Gate, Castle Gate and Bishop Gate remaining open.

While many of Derry's Unionists welcome the accommodation reached, and share the sense of relief that senseless disruption may be avoided, Unionism as a political creature, and the Loyal Orders in particular, have been thrown into chaos by the decision.

A parade of trouble

Apprentice Boys' parades in the city have a history. On 5 October 1968, the Apprentice Boys announced a counter-march to the civil rights march from Duke Street, giving the RUC the excuse they never needed to attack nationalist marchers.

The next 12th of August parade led to the Battle of the Bogide. Even in less contentious times, when these parades do take place, gates are locked and residents shut out of their own city. Violence commonly accompanies the Apprentice Boys.

In 1995, RUC beat protesting local residents off the Walls in order to force through an Apprentice Boys' march. Last year's disgraceful attacks on local residents in the Diamond area by a UFF band from Rathcoole were captured on video.

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