10 December 1998 Edition

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Spirit of Scrooge alive on Drumcree Hill

By Peadar Whelan

At this time of year we traditionally count down the shopping days left until Christmas. But the nationalist residents of Garvaghy Road are counting the marching days left until Christmas as the Orange Order persists in its attempt to march from Drumcree and through the besieged nationalist enclave.

Not only do the Portadown Orangemen intend marching where they are not wanted as this year grinds to its conclusion. Already under the auspices of the Apprentice Boys they have applied to the Parades Commission for permission to march on 2 January next year. They want to walk from Portadown town centre along Obins Street to Drumcree then back along Garvaghy Road.

This route follows the whole course of nationalist Portadown.

Rights for some, oppression for others.

And An Phoblacht has learned that in the next three weeks Orange officials are asking the Parades Commission for the go ahead for marches on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 and 27 December and on Wednesday 30 December.

Then there is the January march which they want to go along the, ``traditional'' route taken since 1807 through the Tunnel from where Orange marches have been barred since 1986 in the aftermath of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

For the march coming up on 19 December the Orangemen have filed for 6,000 marchers as well as ten bands while the Apprentice Boys are filing for 1,000 marchers and ten bands.

With the revelation that the Orange Order is, through the increased parades, heightening an already tense situation comes news of a corresponding increase in loyalist violence directed against Portadown nationalists.

Two weeks ago a young man travelling home was blocked by a loyalist mob at the junction of the Drumcree Road and Dungannon Road. He was returning home with his girlfriend and both were lucky to escape injury although their car was damaged.

A Catholic owned garage on the route from Portadown to Drumcree was also attacked.

On Saturday 28 November nationalists leaving St Patrick's Hall (from where nationalist Robert Hamill was beaten to death last May by loyalists as the RUC looked on) were confronted with a gang of loyalists wielding baseball bats and golf clubs.

Two of the nationalists received injuries, with one being brought to hospital for treatment, including 14 stitches.

Some of their attackers were wearing band uniform and had attended a march in support of the Drumcree Orangemen in the town that afternoon.

Breandan MacCionnaith, spokesperson for the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, pointed out that since July there has been ``five months of almost constant parades and protests in support of the Orange Order. Apart from four of five the rest were illegal. Yet according to the minutes of the police liaison committee meeting, that we have access to in the council, only 51 people have been charged with public order offences.

``Clearly the RUC has chosen, again, to use kid gloves on Orangemen and their loyalist supporters. They are refusing to protect vulnerable nationalists''.

Mr MacCionnaith explained that almost every night there had been some form of action at the Craigwell Road, a nationalist street linking Obins Street with Loyalist Corcrain Road and that the RUC allowed the Loyalists to push down into Craigwell.

``When nationalist residents complained they were threatened with arrest,'' declared Mr MacCionnaith.

Last Thursday up to 1,000 loyalists gathered at Drumcree and a bout of serious trouble led to accusation and counter accusation between the Orange Order and the RUC, each blaming the other.

Regardless of this tiff between the Orangemen and the RUC the situation remains that to be a Catholic in Portadown is to be the target of sectarian hatred and violence.

Their fear is so rife that Portadown nationalists fear shopping in the town centre and now organise buses and travel to safer venues.

However nowhere is the viciousness of the Orange mindset demonstrated more clearly than in the statement of one Orangeman who said, ``if we can't enjoy Christmas, the Garvaghy Road residents won't enjoy it either''.

Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann, Dara O'Hagan, speaking after Wednesday's meeting to elect the Orange leadership, said, ``The Orange Order can no longer ignore their responsibilities to the people of Portadown. They have endured intimidation daily for almost seven months. It is now time for the siege to be called off and the fruitless attempt to march along the Garvaghy Road should end. The Orange Order leadership must seek dialogue with the residents of the Garvaghy Road in a bid to reach an accommodation. The problems in Portadown are difficult but not insurmountable if approached in a positive manner.''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1