24 September 1998 Edition
Thanks to the people of the Garvaghy Road
We are writing to thank the residents of the Garvaghy Road and Obins Street for the hospitality and warm welcome they extended to all of us from every corner of Ireland who came to show our solidarity with the besieged nationalist community in Portadown.
Much has been written and said in both the print media and on television about the standoff at Drumcree, most of which tried to portray the Garvaghy residents as being involved in some sort of plot hatched by the so-called ``Pan Nationalist Front'' to discredit the Orange Order.
Nothing could be further from the truth; the problems facing Catholics in Portadown are much deeper than that. When agreement was reached in 1993 the Orange Order insisted on rubbing residents' noses in it by the now First Minister David Trimble and Ian Paisley doing a jig down the Garvaghy Road to the sounds of ``The Sash'' booming around them. Who could forget the sight of hooded RUC, beating and shooting plastic bullets at men women and children in 1996 and Mo Mowlam's disgraceful Pontius Pilate antics of 1997? Would 1998 be any different? Yes it was, a community that had been betrayed for years reacted the only way it could, by trying to reach agreement with the Orange Order who refused to even speak to them.
The Garvaghy Road is not some offshore island, but it may as well be. Nationalists are not welcome in Portadown; not only are they not welcome, they stand a very real chance of being badly beaten or worse, killed. Especially young males, as in the case of Robert Hamill who was kicked to death on the main crossroads in Portadown town centre. Up to now nobody has been convicted of this terrible sectarian murder and even the limited inquest procedure operated by the British government in Ireland has not yet set a date at which to hear the case.
Basic amenities such as bank cashpoints are not available, mothers are afraid when their sons or daughters go into town, youth activities such as discos, cinemas, and even the swimming pool are out of bounds because of fear of attack. On the first Monday of the siege we talked to a group of young people who, to our surprise, were not too worried about what would happen if the Orangemen came marching down the Garvaghy Road. They would sit on the road and be battered off it by the RUC, he said, and then go to Craigavon Hospital! They were afraid to attend work or call to the dole office up town for fear of assassination.
This is the year 1998, two years away from the millennium! It may sound crazy to an outsiders, but this is the terrible reality for nationalists living in Portadown. The stand by the people of the Garvaghy Road against racist bigotry will, in time, be seen for what it is, the turning point for nationalists in Portadown, but at a price. Lest we forget, many people who were tragically murdered, Adrian Lymph, Eddie McGolderick and Robert Hamill, to name but a few.
Then we recieved news of the tragic deaths of the Quinn children, Richard 10, Mark 9, and Jason 8 who were burned to death in Ballymoney and our hearts sank. Surely after this the Orange Order would come to its senses, call off its activities and enter into direct dialogue with the residents of the Garvaghy Road. Sadly this was not to be the case; that very night which had been unusually quiet, the good doctor Ian Paisley arrived to stir the blood of the brethren. We could not hear what he said nor did we care, all we know is, when he finished the violence erupted again.
Since our last visit to Portadown the situation on the ground there has deteriorated, Catholics no longer go into the centre of town to shop as it is increasingly unsafe. On Saturday 5 September two female witnesses to the murder of Robert Hamill were attacked and beaten by a loyalist mob. Later that evening three Catholic-owned premises were burned out and others threatened with a similar fate. As in the case of the murder of Robert Hamill the RUC stand aside and do nothing.
The local Urban Council voted 6 to 4 in favour of allowing an Orange demonstration in a park which is adjacent to Obins Street and the Garvaghy Road, one of the few amenities available and habitually used by Catholic young people. The residents of these areas realise that this situation has the potential of a powder keg, just waiting to go off, and wonder, giving the provocation, will they be able to control their own young people?
The people of the Garvaghy Road are anxiously awaiting the benefits of ``The Good Friday Agreement'' and wonder if the loyalists of Portadown are aware of the ongoing peace process.
To close, we would like to pay tribute to all the people we met there, the humanity and kindness of the people of the Garvaghy Road will remain forever in our hearts. As for loyalism in general, the words of Herbert Spencer seem appropriate: ``There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance, that principle is contempt prior to investigation''.
Joe, Paddy and Pat,
Praise for Ballinamuck
Congratulations to Ballinamuck, Co Longford for the splendid week-long 1798 commemoration in early September. A small village raised £60,000, so many of the events were free and families could enjoy them.
The variety of tours, the roasting pig, concerts and lectures, the French and Irish flags flying on farm gate posts and cars, the twinning and visits with the French village, the Heritage Centre with the folklore accounts of the battle all contributed to the education of the children.
Longford teachers of Irish in New York and London gave Irish language and singing classes. A Gaelscoil in Longford Town opened its doors. A peace garden signalled the future. The Cavan Orangemen must have been assimilated.
Some wondered how the people of 2098 will celebrate 1798 and the Battle of Ballinamuck.
In spite of the historians, we must have won it in the end.
Clara ní Ghiolla
Middle Andersonstown Festival
As part of our Festival Activities we are erecting a monster mural to commemorate the 1798 Rebellion. The mural will be officially unveiled on Sunday 27 September at 6.00pm. The venue is at South Link in Andersonstown. The mural is commissioned by the Link Environmental Committee, MBW and various cultural societies based in Andersonstown. From these groups a 1798 Committee was formed.
At 7.00pm on the same evening the Roddy McCorley Society will present an evening of `talk, craic, song' and a slide show on 1798. This will be followed by a social evening of folk music. The venue for this is the Andersonstown Social Club. Councillor Chrissie McAuley will unveil the mural. The Presbyterian Church, the Church of Ireland and the French Government have been invited to lay wreaths.
Lower Falls Commemoration
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Lower Falls Commemoration Committee. This group was established to ensure that the memory of those Republicans from the Falls area who died in the struggle for Irish Freedom would never be forgotten.
The Annual Commemoration function will take place on 9 October and it is hoped to mark this special occasion with the launch of a photographic exhibition depicting the Republican Struggle in the area.
We are consequently appealing to anyone who may have photographs, documents etc. concerning dead volunteers, prisoners, protest and social or pleasure events - in fact, anything with a republican connection to the Falls area - to contact the Committee at the Sinn Fein Advice Centre, 51-55 Falls Road, Tel-Fax 01232- 230227.
Anyone leaving photographs or articles, please leave name and address with items to ensure safekeeping.
Write to Commission
Pleas allow me to use the columns of your newspaper to urge people to write to the Patten Commission concerning the RUC.
Over recent months the RUC has been re-inventing its public image. Gone are the muntinies at Drumcree. Enter instead, under the conspicuous eyes of Mr Patten and his fellow commissioners, the RUC purporting to be a community police force that eschews any hint of sectarianism.
In order that the Patten Commission gets the true picture it is vital that people write to this Commission outlining their personal experiences of the RUC. A submission to this Commission can simply take the form of a handwritten letter. It might be detailing the harassment one experienced at the hands of the RUC over the years or events that pointed towards the sinister links between the RUC and the loyalist death squads. Whatever your story is, get it down on paper and send it off to: Chris Patten, Interpoint Centre, 20-24 York St. Belfast BT18 1AQ.
Such submissions have taken on an added importance since the recent statement from the Patten Commission claiming that it is not in the commissioners' brief to investigate the RUC's past. Such utterances defy logic. How can the Commission devise new police structures if they do not want to know what went wrong in the past?
Besides, in the Belfast Agreement the tasks of the Commission are clearly spelt out, they include examining the role of the RUC over the years as well as proposing new policing structures.
That the Patten Commission should issue such misleading information makes it doubly important that people put pen to paper and tell their side of the RUC story now.
Msgr Raymond Murray