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8 July 1999 Edition

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Garvaghy Road protest at parliament opening

Irish activists in Edinburgh put the Garvaghy Road siege centre stage when they carried out a daring protest before the opening of the Scottish Parliament last Thursday, 1 July.

Four members of the Edinburgh Friends of the Garvaghy Road jumped the crowd barriers and evaded the mounted police before running towards the British Queen's carriage.

The four daring republicans were carrying placards supporting the nationalist residents of Garvaghy Road as well as placards calling for the RUC to be disbanded.

They were chased by the mounted police and arrested and were subsequently charged with `placing the Queen in a state of fear and alarm'.

Following the opening of the Scottish Parliament, Elizabeth Windsor, who was described as being `clearly distressed' at the effect of the protest, refused to return to the carriage and was driven around in an armour-plated car instead.

One of the protesters told An Phoblacht: ``As long as the siege of the Garvaghy Road continues, there will be protests here in Edinburgh in support of the residents. The days of the Queen travelling unchallenged through the city of James Connolly's birth are over.''

All four denied the charges against them and were bailed on condition they do not enter Edinburgh city centre while the Queen is visiting the city. Since the protest, security in the city has been tightened and police have blown up two suspected car bombs and closed parts of the city centre, all false alarms.


Unnerving sectarianism


Up until Saturday the worst - indeed the only - overtly sectarian abuse to which I had ever been subjected was that handed out to me as I stood outside Downing Street on a picket calling for the release of prisoners when a young woman crossed the road in order to call me a fenian bitch. At the time, the incident seemed harmless and even rather amusing.

On Saturday evening, however, the unbelievably vicious reality of sectarianism manifested itself when I watched the Orange march go past St John the Baptist Chapel in Portadown. It isn't funny.

I had wandered down to where the churchyard meets the cemetery wall and where I was within 2 or 3 metres of the marchers. As they stomped past, the young men in and accompanying the march had, almost without exception, expressions of the most absolute and distilled hatred it is possible to imagine and they went out of their way to establish eye contact. Apart from the unrepeatable sexual innuendo and usual fenian whore/bastard/you-name-it abuse, I was also told in detail about the various forms of violent death which were going to be inflicted on me. To be five feet away from complete stranger who is looking deep into your eyes with irrational, homicidal rage, simply because you are not with his gang, was a salutary lesson. Particularly when I saw the American observer, sitting on the cemetery wall just beyond me outside the barbed wire, attacked and hauled over the wall by a number of young men on the march. They wanted blood and she was the first person they could get to. Who she was didn't matter. They wanted to hurt somebody - anybody - and she would do. And all of this was observed with quiet smiles of indulgent satisfaction by their elders and betters in bowler hats and collarettes.

Moreover, what was utterly bewildering about the entire event was the behaviour of the hangers-on - men, women and children - and their incomprehensible obsession with insulting Catholicism. They merried themselves by putting up two fingers to the chapel; one or two of them adding ``three-nil, three-nil'' type gestures for good measure - asking ``where's your fucking Virgin Mary?'', as well as how many Hail Marys I had said because I would need to say my prayers, whether I had been abused by the priest, and so on.

The most imaginative of these insults came from a respectable-looking old lady in her best Sunday suit, who danced her way down the pavement accompanied by what I presume were her grandchildren. She was clearly intensely excited by the occasion and joined in with the obscene gestures towards the chapel. On catching sight of me just inside the barbed wire she came as close as she could before shouting: ``See you blondie, I'm going to strangle you with your rosary beads''. This was greeted by a chorus of hysterical cackling as she and her entourage made their way to church, where no doubt Ruth Dudley Edwards was waiting to congratulate them on being such lovely, decent and misunderstood people.

The most illuminating - no, depressing - lesson came later, however, when I spoke to some of the residents about the incident. Their reaction was mild surprise, not at what was said, but because I was so taken aback at the level of hatred. Being on the receiving end of that kind of psychopathic loathing is part of the everyday fabric of life for Catholics in Portadown.


``Trimble's Hostages''

By Laura Friel

  It's a normal event and ought to be regarded as a normal event. What is abnormal is the way in which a purely peaceful affirmation of culture and identity is then attacked by some people who go out of their way..in order to do so 
David Trimble, Talkback radio, July 1996

It was late. After 2am in the early hours of Sunday morning. At Drumcree community centre along the Garvaghy Road, international observers and supporters were still up and about. All day, residents at the centre had poured thousands of cups of tea, dished up food and information to the hundreds of people who had travelled to Portadown to monitor the Orange July 4th parade. The warm night air was still filled with the clatter and chatter of too many people in too small a room.

On a television screen mounted on the wall, film footage of Drumcree `97 switched to the living room of a distraught resident. She spoke of her ordeal softly, hushed as if she was afraid to be overheard. A loyalist mob, armed with iron bars, had attacked her home. She described pushing her child through a back garden hedge and telling him to run as fast as he could.

The community centre fell silent. Someone switched off the lights and we all watched. On screen was another resident weeping as she watched news coverage of herself shouting angrily at the media just moments after the RUC had beaten and dragged residents away to facilitate an Orange march along the Garvaghy Road.

Filmed in her own home a year later, and facing the prospect of Drumcree `98, she wept. ``I can't afford to be that angry again,'' she says. Pregnant, she was fearful for her unborn child, she explained. And now we were facing Drumcree `99. In the community centre, many of us watching wanted to weep with her. It was the least we could do.

Saturday had been a strange day. It began at the Ashton Centre with a book launch. Tim Pat Coogan had called ``A community under Siege'', a diary record by local people of last year's loyalist stand off at Drumcree, ``a testimony to the human spirit''. The Garvaghy Road was Ireland's Soweto, he said, and it was time for it to stop.

The sun had shone and the mood was upbeat as residents merrily collected the autographs of the many political and academic dignatories who were there to lend their support. But the day was to end very differently.

At St John's Chapel, Saturday evening Mass was still underway when strains of `The Sash' became audible to the worshippers. The priest was left standing at the alter as many of his congregation joined fellow residents monitoring the passing Orange parade outside.

One massgoer burst into tears as she surveyed the scene from the chapel steps. Parents were searching for their children in the crowd, pulling the youngest towards the relative safety of the chapel doorway. And the Orange bands were playing. And the Orange men were marching.

  I would hope the [British] government comes to its senses and overturns some of the silly decisions by the Parades Commission and allows the legitimate expression of Orange culture in the British unionist tradition. 
- George Patton, Orange Order Executive Officer, BBC Newsline, July 1999.

Earlier, the entrance to the Garvaghy Road estate had been lined with military vehicles, the dark green of the British army and the grey Land Rovers of the RUC. Coils of barbed wire now encircled the chapel grounds.

A line of riot-clad RUC officers carrying shields faced the Orange marchers. A line of grim-faced heavily-armed RUC faced the residents. ``The RUC are itching to have a go at us,'' says one parishioner, and you can see it in their faces - hostility, arrogance and frustration.

Tension mounts as residents are subjected to a torrent of verbal sectarian abuse from passing Orange marchers. One Orange supporter leans over the barrier and strikes a woman across the face with a flag pole. The woman cries out and a ripple of fear runs through the crowd.

A BBC reporter with a microphone and a very posh English accent greets Breandán MacCionnaith with a politeness as chirpy as it is false. ``And how are you?'' he enquiries. ``Tired'' is the terse reply, as Breandán moves swiftly on.

As night falls the community is both tired and tense. Another sleepless night is the only certainty. Information and rumour are analysed with equal vigour. A priest from a nearby parish is worried, torn between his duties as a parish priest and the need to stand with the Garvaghy community at a time of need.

He stays, then changes his mind and decides to drive back to the parochial house to make sure the rota for Sunday Mass is organised. It's after midnight, the route dangerous and we're worried about him. Someone suggests he conceals his dog collar, he considers it but decides as a priest he can't deny his faith.

And that's the dilemma faced by many people on the Garvaghy Road and I don't say that in any kind of religious way. The people of Garvaghy Road can't waive their right to live free from sectarian harassment any more than a priest can deny his faith, not even for the time it takes Orangemen to walk down the Garvaghy Road.

``Gerry Adams is right,'' says a resident,''and I'm not just talking about the Garvaghy Road; this is not about republicans or nationalists, this is about unionists who can't stomach the thought of treating Catholics as equals.''

A few months ago a woman living in the Garvaghy Road estate spoke of her recent miscarriage. On the way to hospital with her husband they had been held at a roadblock. Orange protesters forced the couple to return home.

``I'm not saying Orangemen were responsible for the loss of my child,'' she said. ``Miscarriages happen, they're a part of everyday life. What I am saying is that I was denied the space to cope with it. It was an intrusion, a violation of my right as a human being to deal with personal loss in the accepted way.''

And violation is really what we are witnessing. The siege of Garvaghy Road has moved beyond harassment and intimidation. Orange protests and loyalist violence have violated the very fabric of daily life in this community.

The mother who could not guarantee her child's safety in his own home at night bears testimony to that. A pregnant woman whose very womb can't provide sanctuary for the child she carries bears testimony to that. As does the family which only a few weeks ago was denied the right to bury a 17-year-old suicide in peace with dignity.

The parishioner who cried on the chapel steps as the Orange parade passed did not cry out in anger nor fear but wept with tears of anguish. The trauma of the systematically abused confronted by an unrepentant abuser. ``It's a disgrace,'' says an elderly resident, ``a shameful disgrace.''

On Drumcree hill, the Orangemen wait. On Sunday, they marched past St John's Chapel in silence, accompanied only by the beat of a drum. Earlier, ``The Long March'' supporters of the Orange Order's assertion of their absolute right to march down the Garvaghy Road also passed the chapel. The irony of their ``Real Victims'' banner was not lost on the nationalist residents watching from behind the wire.

The Parades Commission has already hinted that it will look favourably on future Orange applications if protests remain peaceful. ``We're Trimble's hostages,'' says a Garvaghy resident, ``the guarantee of no surrender to keep his anti-Agreement opponents off his back.''


Not just a march

By Michael Pierse

For some of the swarm of visitors to the Garvaghy Road last weekend, their most poignant memory will not be of the Orange march itself but of the knowledge of an unseen year of intimidation and murder suffered by residents, yet omitted from media reports of the weekend.

The superficiality of seasonal media attention attended only to the silence and supposed `dignity' of marching Orangemen. Black bowler hats proceeded eerily to the beat of a schoolgirl's band with a smug complacency that prompted more sinister analyses of the situation. Last year, their anger and fear at the prospects for change offered then were manifested in a macabre display on the march. Sadistic taunts of hatred directed towards the family of murder victim Robert Hamill and nationalist residents were replaced by silence and self assurity this year. These were no longer a people who believed they were making a last futile stand against the seeming inevitability of a changing political landscape. The choreographed uniformity, restraint, relative silence, and cult-like discipline of this parade belied not only the belief that they would not march the Garvaghy Road, but also the perception that loyalist supremacy is no longer threatened by the political situation.

The people of the Garvaghy Road, a year on, have seen little change despite the semantical spinning of what has realistically been a wasted year. Walking through the area, one is constantly aware of the metaphysical barrier excluding Catholic residents from the outside world. British soldiers eagerly greet everyone that walks by like well trained Yorkshire terriers. There is absolutely nothing for young people. No cinemas, no nightclubs, no amenities, nothing. While unionism prevaricates over inanimate objects, the real suffering of these young people continues.

Leaving the road in a tour coach felt tacky. The Garvaghy Road residents are the subject of two weeks' soundbite media attention every year yet are largely ignored for the other 50. Opposition to the Orange march is not just about the principle of ``No talk, no walk'', but a protest at the exclusion and marginalisation of a part of Portadown, inflicted solely because the area is inhabited by Catholics. No matter how quiet or reduced the march, no matter who talks to whom, opposition will remain to Orange marches, so long as that section of the community chooses to ignore the validity of the other.


U.S. Garvaghy observer injured


An American human rights activist observing the Orange Order march past St John the Baptist Chapel in Portadown on Saturday 3 July was attacked and injured by several members of the parade as she sat on the cemetery wall next to the Chapel taking photographs. Shannon Eton was hit twice over the head by a youth wielding a flagpole and was punched and kicked as several more youths attempted to drag her off the wall, which unlike previous years, was not protected by barbed wire.

As a result, she sustained a broken wrist, a large cut to her forehead and several large gashes to her leg as well as serious bruising to the lower half of her body. Speaking to An Phoblacht, she said:

``As the first group of Orangemen came down, I was taking pictures, feeling very invisible and very removed from the situation, just honing in on what was in my camera.

``The first band stalled next to me and it was only at that point that I realised that they were very close up - about four or five feet away from me. I put the camera down. The tension was palpable; they were staring at me and I was staring at them. There were some very rough looking men and women walking alongside the band, and this man who was probably 18 to 20 stopped, walked by me and somehow signalled the others. Then there were two or three others and they pulled my right leg. At that point I started to go over the wall. They were pulling me into the road and as they were pulling me they were hitting me.

``The women on the other side grabbed my other leg to pull me back and out of the Orangemen came a man with a sash on with a flag pole and hit me over the back of my skull. I turned and saw him coming again and that's when he hit me on the front of my head.

``I have never, in all my years' experience in America [as a human rights activist] - and some of them were very unpleasant experiences - felt anything like what those men were like, never, and I hope I never do again. Just prior to the attack, my thoughts were that many of the men's eyes were like shark eyes - vacant, evil. And there was a tension in their bodies that was just ready to snap. I found their hatred terrifying.''

Shannon was saved by a number of women residents from the Garvaghy Road who ran to the cemetery wall and managed to pull her back over the wall to relative safety. The RUC made no attempt to pursue or arrest her attackers, despite the huge security presence around the Chapel.

In further developments, a group of loyalist demonstrators attempted to break into the cemetery adjacent to St John the Baptist Chapel at the top of Garvaghy Road on Sunday night. The front of the cemetery, which has a low wall directly facing onto the main Dungannon Road, had been left entirely without defences.

At about 10.30pm on Sunday evening, An Phoblacht reporters, together with three members of the London Friends of Garvaghy Road and Councillor Joe Duffy, were at the cemetery wall. A unit of British Army soldiers were nearby, reinforcing the barbed wire separating the cemetery from Drumcree Hill.

Throughout the evening, groups of loyalists, a few as young as 13 and 14, walked up and down the cemetery wall, some of them carrying petrol cans, threatening the delegation and issuing taunts about Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and asking if there was a space in the cemetery for Breandán MacCionnaith ``because he's going to be the next one to fucking get it''. Earlier on, a woman tending one of the graves had also been the subject of a stream of sectarian abuse by passing loyalist youths.

At about 11.30pm, once word had got back to demonstrators that the cemetery was a possible route for an incursion into the Garvaghy Road, a mob gathered along the Dungannon Road reaching as far the petrol station some 100 metres away from the cemetery wall. The British army unit was then seen jumping into the hedge before disappearing from view, and it was only when a number of residents made their way to the front of the cemetery that the RUC appeared to prevent the loyalist mob from advancing any further down the Dungannon Road.

By Monday morning, a razor wire barrier some 10 feet high had been erected along the cemetery wall.


Gracey urged to come on down

Following news reports of another night of loyalist violence in Craigavon, Portadown and Ballymena, Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann Dr Dara O'Hagan has called on Harold Gracey to ``keep his word and come down from Drumcree Church''.

O'Hagan's comments come after promises made by Gracey that he would leave Drumcree Church if any violence followed demonstrations in Portadown.

O'Hagan said: ``Over the past number of nights we have seen repeated acts of violence by loyalists and supporters of the siege of Garvaghy Road. Petrol bombs have been thrown in Carrickfergus and found in Portadown and Ballymena. A pipe bomb has been left outside the house of a nationalist in Ballycastle, and nationalist homes have been attacked in South Belfast. All this violence means that if Harold Gracey is true to his word, he must leave Drumcree Church.''

O'Hagan ended by saying: ``It is quite clear that contrary to the public statements of the Orange Order, their words and actions surrounding contentious parades in Portadown, South Belfast and elsewhere lead to violence.''

In two loyalist attacks in County Antrim over Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, a Catholic-owned business in Carrickfergus was petrol bombed, causing extensive damage to the video shop and smoke damage to neighbouring premises.

Then on Wednesday, a pipe bomb attack was carried out on the house of a Sinn Féin worker in Ballycastle. The Sinn Féin Councillor for the area, James McCarry, said:

``Only weeks after my own house was attacked and my family narrowly escaped death or injury, another party colleague has been singled out in the same way. Fortunately the device failed to explode, but this in no way detracts from the seriousness of this action.''

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin councillor for South Belfast, Sean Hayes, has told An Phoblacht that nationalist houses in the Markets area of Belfast also came under attack from loyalists. The attacks, which took place in the early hours of Wednesday morning, resulted in damage to the houses of a number of residents.

Hayes said: ``We are seeing a steady increase in the level of loyalist attacks in nationalist South Belfast. It is quite obvious that the aim of these attacks is to heighten tensions in the run up to the Twelfth and as `revenge' for the decision by the Parades Commission's decision to re-route the Ormeau Road parade.''



Orange Order insults Blair's wife


At a press conference on Friday 2 July, Breandán MacCionnaith revealed that the Orange Order made an extraordinary offer on Wednesday 30 June in an attempt to persuade the Government to allow a march down the Garvaghy Road on 4 July.

In a memo from David Campbell to David Trimble and Jonathan Powell of the NIO, it was suggested that ``as a gesture of respect for the Prime Minister'' the Order should be allowed to proceed from Drumcree Church to the Carleton Street Orange Hall via the Garvaghy Road and that the Garvaghy Road community should - separately of course - ``progress to an agreed point on the Garvaghy Road to place a floral tribute to the victims [of the Somme]''.

The memo goes on to suggest that Cherie Blair, being a Catholic and therefore not eligible to worship with the Order, ``might worship with the Garvaghy Road Community and proceed with them to the agreed point''. However, the Prime Minister, being a Protestant, ``might worship with Portadown District LOL No. 1 and proceed with them to the agreed point''. Clearly the Order believed that the way to win round the Prime Minister to their point of view was to insult his wife on the grounds of her religious beliefs.

To add potential injury to this insult, the offer was framed with the threat that ``In the event of a parade not occurring on Sunday, the District will refuse all engagement and will signal that for the next two years there will be nightly protests in Portadown''.

At the same time as the Order's offer was made, the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition also made an offer for an act of reconciliation between both communities to take place ``in the presence of the four Church leaders, Prime Minister and political leaders, attended by both communities. A joint statement of reconciliation by both sides will be read out by one young person from each community''. It went on to suggest that an endowment fund for young people from both communities to promote reconciliation should be set up by the British government. By the time this offer had been made public it had already been rejected outright by the Orange Order.

During the press conference, Breandán MacCionnaith also called on both the Parades Commission and the British government, in the light of increasing - mostly unreported - loyalist violence in Portadown, to uphold their obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, and questioned their handling of the Orange Order:

``The Chairman of the Parades Commission issued a letter to the Times newspaper, quite obviously a very conciliatory letter, to the Orange Order, and I have to ask; is the Parades Commission and the British government, rather than affirming the right of this community to live free from sectarian harassment - now engaged in a policy of appeasement towards the Orange Order? If that is the case, then are those people in the Parades Commission and the within the British Government abiding by the very clearly stated obligations under the Good Friday Agreement to ensure the right of this community and communities like us to live free from sectarian harassment?''


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1