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27 May 1999 Edition

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Garvaghy Road - threats and stalling

By Ned Kelly

With 38 days left until Drumcree Saturday, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has calling for support for the nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road. Following discussions with the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC), both Adams and SDLP leader John Hume have issued statements to highlight the nationalist consensus on the Orange siege.

Adams called for ``an immediate end to the daily intimidation of this community by the Orange Order and its supporters''.

He said: ``The Good Friday Agreement was designed to bring about fundamental and thoroughgoing change in peoples lives. The key issue is one of human and civil rights. These rights are not negotiable.''

Reassuring Garvaghy residents that they will not be victims to political expediency, Adams added: ``The plight of the residents is a stand-alone issue and cannot be traded off, as some media speculation has suggested, for an Executive or other political development.''

The call comes following three days of orchestrated loyalist violence last week, after the GRRC's challenge to the latest Parades Commission ruling that an Orange parade that left several nationalists injured last year can go ahead, and as evidence mounts that Orange supporters are preparing for an all-or-nothing confrontation this summer.

DUP Assembly member and Orange Order member Paul Berry looks set to face legal proceedings over his clear threat that along with `others' he was prepared to ``take the law into our own hands''. In a BBC interview, Berry issued the threat which, according to legal advice taken by the GRRC, is sufficient for him to be prosecuted. Berry could be charged by the RUC under the 1997 Protection from Harassment Order that is designed to protect individuals from stalkers, wife-batterers and perverts. Although he may also be open to charges of incitement.

In the BBC interview Berry said: ``They've stopped us going along the Garvaghy Road and they're going to try and stop us in Corcrain. But I will say quite clearly they'll not be stopping us this July, because if our security forces and government do not take the right decision, well then we're going to have to think very seriously of what way we're going to go down this road in 1999.

``And if that is a matter of taking the law into our own hands, we're going to have to do that.''

Interviewer: ``That sounds like a threat.''

Berry: ``Well that is a threat.''

Meanwhile, the Portadown Orange Order has attempted to erect preconditions to next week's three-day proximity talks, chaired by ACAS negotiator Frank Blair, by calling for clarification. On Wednesday afternoon, the Portadown Orange lodge said it was willing to take part in the latest round of proximity talks but demanded clarification on specific issues. Earlier in the week, leading Portadown Orangeman David McNarry attempted to dictate terms to the Garvaghy Road residents. He said that if Breandán MacCionnaith was not part of the negotiating team and that if the Garvaghy Road residents withdrew their objections to the Orange parade through their community from the Parades Commission, then he could see no problems in talking. Meanwhile the 30 June Orange-imposed deadline for finding a solution to the situation remains.

Welcoming the proximity talks, GRRC spokesperson, independent nationalist councillor Breandán MacCionnaith, told An Phoblacht that the residents ``will approach the talks with an open mind''. He added that the reality was that previous proximity talks in 1996 and 1998 had failed to generate any new ideas for resolving the issue.

Last week at a packed public meeting Garvaghy residents sent out the clear message that in light of the harassment, intimidation and violence directed against their community by loyalists over the last 10 months that there would be no Orange march on the Garvaghy Road this year.

MacCionnaith described any formula of solutions that involved any such march as ``unrealistic''.

He told An Phoblacht that the proximity talks planned for next week mean that the next round of Trimble/local elected representatives talks planned for tomorrow - which Orange Order members have boycotted - were unlikely to add anything. He said that only one process should be focused upon. The GRRC spokesperson was also adamant that the Trimble meetings had generated ``no suggestions, no proposals put forward by Unionists''.

As we go to press - the decision announced this week by the Parades Commission to allow a junior Orange march on to the edge of the Garvaghy Road this Saturday is being challenged by the GRRC in a high court judicial review. Last year, nationalists living at the lower end of the Garvaghy Road were attacked by loyalist supporters of the Orange Order during the march and the RUC was criticised for attacking a peaceful residents' protest. During the RUC attack on nationalist residents, a number of local people and a press photographer were injured by the RUC's indiscriminate firing of plastic bullets.


Sound and fury


The Church of Ireland synod votes against Drumcree

by Laura Friel

The Church of Ireland was spawned in the same supremacist pond as the Orange Order and Ulster Unionism. Together they presided over a grotesque sectarian state.
The vote was overwhelming but the outcome less than certain. The Church of Ireland synod endorsed a motion last week calling on the rector of Drumcree and his vestry to withdraw their invitation to the Portadown Orangemen to attend the July 4 service if they do not adhere to three pledges of good behaviour. The pledges amount to a call for the Orange Order to abide by any ruling by the Parades Commission to reroute them away from the nationalist Garvaghy Road.

The synod message was clear. Prayers not protest are to be the order of the day. The Church of Ireland will not endorse another rerun of the ``siege of Drumcree''. The image of `the church on the hill' has become a byword for bigotry and disorder. It's an evocation the Church of Ireland no longer believes it can ignore. It has taken four years, seven deaths, and the international humiliation of seeing the annual orgy of loyalist violence splashed across the world's media for the dam of complacency to be broken. But has the tide really turned?

Certainly the image of Reverend John Pickering as a simple country parson overtaken by events on the ground has gone. A lone figure still, the Drumcree rector is now identified as isolated in opposition to his peers. No longer on the fringes of the Orange controversy, Pickering, the Church of Ireland would have us believe, is now central to the dilemma they face.

Voting against the motion, Pickering warned the synod that he had no intention of turning Orangemen away from Drumcree church whatever the circumstances. ``Public worship is open to everyone and I won't prevent anyone from attending the worship of Almighty God,'' said Pickering. The synod may squirm but can they get off the Drumcree hook?

The niceties of theological debate will cut no ice with a world which already views Drumcree as a carnival of sectarian reaction. Polite debate rather than decisive action will be viewed as an abdication, not the exercise of moral responsibility.
``Make no mistake,'' Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames told the 800 delegates to the syno, ``a Drumcree situation could occur outside any Church of Ireland, Methodist or Presbyterian church.'' There is nothing that makes the Church of Ireland more ``Orange'' than any other Protestant church, reiterated Canon Charles Kenny of the Catalyst group. It was an accident of geography, the proximity to the Orange citadel of Portadown, that has thrust the Drumcree crisis into the Church of Ireland's lap, he argued.

Not only are the Church of Ireland's hands clean, it is their theological duty to sit on them. All reformed churches place individual conscience at the centre of their practices, we are told. There was a deep reluctance to ``legislate'' against Reverend Pickering. The Church of Ireland prefers to work ``to encourage mature counsel and responsible action than the exercise of individual responsibility by coercion,'' the sub committee on sectarianism concluded. The Church of Ireland is powerless to deal with a recalcitrant pastor, or so it would have us believe.

Powerless or not, it is doubtful if the Church of Ireland can continue indefinitely to survive the mockery of Drumcree year, after year, after year. The overwhelming endorsement of the motion, passed by 363 to 65, shows a deep disquiet within the church. But the niceties of theological debate will cut no ice with a world which already views Drumcree as a carnival of sectarian reaction. Polite debate rather than decisive action will be viewed as an abdication, not the exercise of moral responsibility.

For Northern nationalists, the unwillingness of the Church of Ireland to act against Pickering and his Orange congregation is rooted in its history not its theology. The Church of Ireland was spawned in the same supremacist pond as the Orange Order and Ulster Unionism. Together they presided over a grotesque sectarian state.

The dilemma facing the church is not differences between North and South, pulpit versus pew, nor the strategy option of theological persuasion over clerical discipline. The prospect is far more daunting. Can the Church of Ireland break with its past, shed the trappings of its history and by rejecting the old sectarian agenda move with us into future? If not, the tale told by the synod may be ``full of sound and fury'' but it signifies nothing.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1