21 January 1999 Edition
200 days under siege
Yesterday was the 200th day of the loyalist siege of the nationalist Garvaghy Road area of Portadown. In that time there have been hundreds of demonstrations and protests designed to intimidate the nationalist people of the area. The protests - most of them led by prominent Unionist politicians - have been accompanied by threats against the residents and vioelnt incursions into the area. There are constant threats of more violence.
Just this week the Orange Order withdrew from future proximity talks with residents' representatives and suggested that they wish to hold their Twelfth demonstration in Portadown. They are clear signs that the siege is set to continue.
This is all happening in an area where nationalists have always been treated as second-class citizens and where many nationalists have been killed by sectarian gangs. It is no coincidence that those who support the siege of Garvaghy Road are also seeking to topple the Good Friday Agreement. They do not want to have a society based on equality and justice for that would diminish their power.
Local Sinn Fein Assembly member Dara O'Hagan has suggested that the Orange Order's withdrawal from talks and their continuation of the siege is linked to their opposition to the Good Friday Agreement. ``Attempts by the leadership of the Orange Order and other `No' camp Unionists to use the situation in Portadown to undermine the Good Friday Agreement are now clear. There is no other reason for their continuation of the Orange siege of the Garvaghy Road.
``The British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others have indicated that the decision of the Parades Commission concerning the march will not be altered. The leadership of the Orange Order know this, but through their protest they are attempting to unravel the Agreement.''
Those attempts will continue in the months ahead and it is important that nationalists and republicans support the people of the Garvaghy Road in their ordeal.
Blair offers no end to Garvaghy siege
By Fern Lane
For those of you who thought that the Portadown Orangemen could hardly dig themselves any further into their trenches, think again. On Monday 18 January the County Armagh Grand Master, Denis Watson, wrote to Tony Blair refusing Security Minister Adam Ingram's invitation to proximity talks at the weekend on the grounds that ``for the Brethren, these talks have been demoralising and demotivating and they have lost confidence in the merit of another round''.
In his curiously-worded letter Watson told Mr Blair that ``we believe professional help is now required and we confirm that we will not participate in further talks until a clearly defined structure is produced to fit the mood at this time.''
One interpretation of the letter is that the Order will refuse to take part in talks of any description unless they are chaired by someone the Order believes is willing to try and overturn the Parades Commission decision.
At the same time as the letter was received in Downing Street a delegation from the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, including Breandan MacCionnaith and the Coalition's lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, was meeting with Tony Blair - partly in order to try and agree on another round of proximity talks. It was only when the delegation emerged from the meeting an hour later that they were informed by journalists of the Orange Order's letter.
As the talks went on, a demonstration organised by the London Re-route Sectarian Marches Campaign was held opposite Downing Street in support of the Garvaghy Road residents.
Speaking afterwards, Breandan MacCionnaith said that in the light of all that had gone before, particularly 1995 when a gesture by the residents allowing the Orangemen to march was rewarded by a display of gloating triumphalism, ``our committee does not see how it could agree to a march now, or how we could ever trust the Orange Order again''.
Although Blair assured the delegation that the original Parades Commission decision would be upheld - something from which the Coalition was able to ``take some heart'' - and both sides described the meeting as ``constructive'' no concrete progress was made with regard to the lifting of the siege of Portadown. Indeed, Blair seemed at a loss to know what steps to take next, asking the delegation what their own ``short-term solution'' would be.
Coalition members also pointed out to the Prime Minister that the ongoing Orange intimidation would not be tolerated if it were directed against a minority community anywhere else under British jurisdiction. Breandan MacCionnaith likened the situation in Portadown to that in Misissippi during the 1960s and Rosemary Nelson commented that despite the assurances given, ``I find it hard to reconcile the claim that the rule of law prevails with the nightly illegal activity in Portadown and the total absence of arrests''.
At a public meeting held on Monday evening in Camden Irish Centre Breandan MacCionnaith criticised David Trimble's call for the Parades Commission to be disbanded saying, ``Like Craig and Carson before him, Trimble is first and foremost an Orangeman. Drumcree got him into the position he holds today.''
RIR soldier arrested at Drumcree
Sinn Fein's Dara O'Hagan has called for the British soldier from the RIR regiment arrested at Drumcree last week to be dismissed immediately and for the rest of the regiment to be withdrawn from operational duties pending its disbandment.
The soldier, Ian Thomas Ernest Marshall of Doogary Road, Omagh, was charged with having resisted Constable Nigel Loughlin and assaulting him in the course of his duty on Thursday 14 January 1999.
O'Hagan was sceptical of the British Army claim that pending the outcome of the case, Marshall would not be performing operational duties asking, ``does non-operational duties include access to personal files on nationalists and republicans?''
Speaking of Marshall, O'Hagan pointed out that, ``when he was not protesting at Drumcree he was out patrolling, most probably in nationalist areas. What sort of attitude did he approach his so-called impartial duties with? The regiment throughout its history and many name changes from the `B' Specials to the UDR and now the RIR has been the training ground for Loyalist Death Squads. This is just one more instance of the `traditional' linkage between British Security Forces and extreme Loyalism''.