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7 January 1999 Edition

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More of the same from Unionism

Laura Friel sees Unionism still mired in the past as the old year gives way to the new

As the old year gave way to the new, Unionism, in all its forms, remained locked into the old mechanism of defending sectarian privilege.

Throughout the year Unionists, from David Trimble, the Orange Order to the LVF, had expended their energies in a fruitless attempt to secure the past rather than face up to the future. As we begin the countdown towards the New Millennium, the question which lies at the heart of Unionism - whether `to be or not to be' part of the peace process - remains unresolved. Unionists began 1999 as they had ended 98, with the continuing siege of nationalists in Portadown and sectarian bomb and gun attacks against nationalists in vulnerable areas, and with David Trimble, a posturing Hamlet haunted by the ghost of Drumcree, unable to turn back and unwilling to move forward.

In Portadown, the Orange Order staged Christmas and New Year rallies and marches. While Orangemen accused Garvaghy residents of ``total intransigence'' as proximity talks collapsed, Garvaghy solicitor Rosemary Nelson was threatened by loyalists. A telephone caller claiming to be from the Mid Ulster UVF warned that an Orange march scheduled in Portadown on the Saturday before Christmas might ``get serious''.

The Orange Order had wished for a 50,000 turnout but less than a tenth of that number took part. A few Santa hats and costumes could not dispel the general ethos of the parade; sectarian intimidation, drunken marshals, crown forces encircling Nationalists, women from the Shankill, brandishing placards and singing ``we will walk down that road called Garvaghy,'' set the tone. A loyalist band, in full paramilitary regalia and UVF insignia confirmed it. The atmosphere was hostile and sullen. UVF bands from South Antrim and Belfast both happily joined in the Orange marches.

Community groups from nationalist areas across Belfast expressed concern at the ongoing siege of the Garvaghy Road. ``This has been going on for six months, with over 130 marches and demonstrations,'' said Ciaran Kearney of the Falls Community Council. ``The Orange Order seems to be attempting to increase the intimidation of the isolated nationalist residents of Portadown over Christmas. For an organisation which claims to be Christian, this is an outrage,'' said Danny Power of the Frank Gillen Centre. But Orange rallies and marches were set to continue.

The Parades Commission criticised the sectarian behaviour of Orangemen during the parade. Then just after Christmas it was the turn of Derry's Apprentice Boys. Engaging in provocation and flouting rulings by the Parades Commission, bands played sectarian tunes outside Catholic St John's Chapel. Three days later and the Orangemen were back, starting the new year as they had finished the old, intimidating the nationalists of the Garvaghy Road. Their campaign was to be ``stepped up'', the Orange Order said.

Meanwhile, County Armagh Grand Master Dennis Watson had cast himself in the role of Scrooge and there was plenty of humbug as the Orangeman claimed most shoplifters in Portadown were Catholic. In a interview for the Sunday Tribune, Watson denied Catholics were being intimidated in Portadown town centre. He also denied that the murders of the Quinn children in Ballymoney were connected to the Drumcree stand-off. ``We have a dispute over whether the deaths of the Quinn children was linked to Drumcree. As for the policeman (Frankie O Reilly) who was killed, we cannot walk away from that one...that shouldn't have happened.'' Begrudgery in the face of the Ballymoney outrage is particularly despicable, exposing a deep sectarian contempt within Orangeism. It wasn't so long ago that fellow Orangeman Robert Saulters labelled British PM Tony Blair a traitor because he had married a Catholic. Even more recently Orange Lodges in Bangor and Belfast moved to censure members David Trimble and Denis Rogan for attending the funerals of three Catholic schoolchildren killed in the Omagh bombing.

In Harryville, Ballymena, the spirit of goodwill was also in short supply as loyalists refused to allow the removal of red, white and blue bunting in the vicinity of the Church of Our Lady. The Catholic chapel had been targeted for over 20 months by a loyalist picket in 1998. Other bunting in the predominantly loyalist town had been removed over a month ago in preparation for the Christmas festivities but loyalists were keen for the bunting to remain outside the Catholic chapel ``to mark our territory''.

The `Orange Volunteers' claimed a number of sectarian gun and bomb attacks on Catholic families and Catholic owned businesses over the holiday period. The group is not linked to the Orange Order, claimed a spokesperson. They denied any connection between a group advertised in its official `Twelfth' magazine calling itself the `Orange Volunteers'. A group of that name bombed an isolated country pub near Crumlin carried out a gun and grenade attack on a nationalist home in South Derry. Customers enjoying a Christmas drink in McKenna's Bar on the Ballyginniff Road at Aldergrove escaped injury during a blast bomb attack by loyalists on 16 December.

That same night, a couple with four young children were watching television in their isolated home along the Castledawson Road when loyalists launched a gun and grenade attack. Two bursts of gunfire failed to shatter the double glazed windows in the living room where the family was sitting and their attackers were unable to lob the grenade directly into the room.

In a similar attack after Christmas a Catholic family living on the outskirts of Armagh City were targeted. A mother of three young children escaped death when a blast bomb was placed against the outside wall of the living room where she was sitting. Again double glazing protected the intended victim from the full force of the blast. The three children, aged between five and eleven, were sleeping upstairs at the time of the attack.

In North Belfast a nationalist walking along Henry Street on his way to work heard a noise behind him and turned around to be confronted by a man pointing a gun at him. He heard two clicks but the weapon appeared to jam. On the Ormeau Road a jammed gun saved the lives of a number of nationalist who were confronted by a loyalist gunman. One man who fell as he attempted to flee was badly beaten.

In another incident on the Ormeau Road, a young nationalist was stabbed during a sectarian attack and remains seriously injured in hospital.

David Trimble began the New Year by calling for the Parades Commission to be axed. Trimble is a member of a private Orange Lodge in Bangor. The Drumcree standoff, said Trimble, could not be solved by the body which imposed the ban on the Portadown Orange march. ``I said it at the time of the establishment of the Parades Commission that it was a recipe for trouble and so it has proved,'' he said.

Assembly member for Upper Bann, Dara O'Hagan, accused the First Minister of failing to show ``leadership and responsibility''. ``He, along with the Orange Order, has consistently refused to talk to the elected representatives of the residents despite repeated requests to do so.''

Meanwhile Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin described David Trimble's position as First Minister as ``incompatible'' with his membership of the Orange Order. The Ulster Unionist Leader's tacit support for Drumcree was a breach of his pledge of office, said McLaughlin.

And so, as 1999 begins it is clear that Unionism may need a new millennium to cope with the demands of change towards equality and justice.

An Phoblacht
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