14 January 1999 Edition
Lawbreaking loyalists unchallenged by RUC
Laura Friel reports on evidence of ongoing intimidation of nationalists in Portadown's Garvaghy Road, evidence which will be presented to Tony Blair next week
Illegal parades by loyalists in Portadown are not being challenged by the RUC, nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road will tell British PM Tony Blair at a face to face meeting next week.
The delegation, which is to travel to London's Downing Street, is asking why the RUC has failed to prosecute Orange protesters acting in breach of the law governing parades. Commenting on the almost nightly disruption of the local nationalist community by protesting Orangemen, Breandan Mac Cionnaith said residents had endured seven months of intimidation with ``little or no public or political outcry from politicans who are supposed to implement the Good Friday Agreement which guarantees people a life ``free from sectarian harassment.''
The Downing Street delegation is to present a 16 page document detailing dozens of illegal Orange marches and incidents of sectarian assaults, intimidation and abuse. A video recording of recent Orange marches, capturing on film the sectarian antics of loyalist bands and marchers, will also be given to the British Prime Minister.
``The systematic intimidation by Orangemen of a vulnerable group should not be tolerated,'' said Mac Cionnaith.
Garvaghy Road residents are concerned that loyalists intend to intensify their campaign of intimidation following a series of illegal protests since the New Year. Catholic homes were attacked with fireworks, and cars which attempted to pass were kicked during an illegal protest in support of Orangemen last week. Over 200 loyalists gathered at the junction of the Garvaghy and Park Roads during one of two protests in Portadown on the same night.
A spokesperson for the Residents' Coalition criticised the RUC, ``When you have people attacking Catholic-owned cars and intimidating Catholic families the RUC must make arrests,'' said the spokesperson.
The British government has been accused of attempting to `bribe' nationalist residents by linking a £15 million regeneration package for Portadown to the issue of Orange marches along the Garvaghy Road. Tabled by the British during proximity talks last July, the offer of £4 million ``to address grievances'' if nationalist residents agreed to allow an Orange march along the Garvaghy Road was subsequently increased to £15 million. Residents must abandon their stand against sectarian marches through their community before April this year or the British offer will be withdrawn. The Orange Order is insisting that their 1998 parade which was rerouted by the Parades Commission away from Garvaghy Road must proceed before they will even discuss this year's Drumcree march.
Hints at a ``breakthrough'' by the Ulster Unionist Leader and fellow Orangeman David Trimble have been criticised by both the Orange Order and Garvaghy residents. County Grand Master Denis Watson dismissed Trimble's claims while Mac Cionnaith of the residents group accused the First Minister designate of ``playing political games.''
Meanwhile the Church of Ireland has defended its continuing link to the Orange Order, describing Orangemen as ``manifestly decent, religious people, yet who are fearful of the erosion and disappearence of their culture and heritage.''
Loyalist incursion into Garvaghy Road
DUP Assembly member Paul Berry was amongst a loyalist crowd during what nationalist residents have called the most serious incursion by loyalists into the Garvaghy Road area since the beginning of the Drumcree protest last year.
At around 7.15pm on Tuesday 12 January over 200 loyalists gathered at Shingleton Bridge at the bottom of Garvaghy Road. The RUC were at the scene of the illegal gathering but inexplicably withdrew.
The loyalist mob's attempt to overrun the area was thwarted when nationalist residents turned out in force. During the disturbance three cars belonging to nationalist residents were attacked and damaged.
The loyalist crowd dispersed after the RUC returned to the area, only to regroup at Craigwell Avenue. Nationalist residents at the scene have accused Scots Guards, who were accompaning the RUC at Craigwell Avenue, of verbal abuse. Rather than dispersing the loyalists, the British soldiers and RUC attempted to push residents from the scene.
Sinn Fein Assembly member Dara O Hagan was manhandled by British Crown forces as she attempted to intervene. Commenting on the incident Sinn Fein Chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said there was a conspiracy of silence around Garvaghy Road with the RUC at the heart of it. The media was complicit in that silence, said McGuinness.
``The RUC are facilitating loyalist intimidation,'' Breandan Mac Cionnaith of the Residents Coalition said. ``The fact that loyalists can congregate outside Catholic homes waving banners and union flags with impunity says a lot about RUC policing in Portadown.''
Portadown loyalists in abduction attempt
A possible abduction attempt of two Catholic men from Lurgan by Portadown loyalists is being taken seriously by nationalists in the Lurgan/Portadown area. It shows the high state of tension among nationalists in the Portadown area.
In the early hours of Sunday morning two young Catholic men who had accompanied a friend to Craigavon Hospital were approached by two men from Portadown. The exchange began in a friendly manner and the two Lurgan Catholics invited the men from Portadown back to Lurgan for a party. A taxi, ordered by one of the men from Portadown, arrived and the four men got in.
When the taxi failed to take a right turn towards Lurgan, the two Catholic passengers did not at first become suspicious but it soon became clear that a number of routes to Lurgan had been ignored by the driver and they were travelling to Portadown. When the car stopped at traffic lights on the bridge above the tunnel on Obins Street, the two Catholic passengers made their escape, jumping down into the nationalist enclave below.
Moments later the same taxi arrived in the Obins Street area, with two different men as passengers. The taxi appeared to be searching the area. Clearly in a state of panic the two Catholic men made their way to a friend's house nearby where they were able to telephone a Lurgan taxi company.