19 August 1999 Edition
Armoured RUC thugs batter nationalists
Parades Commission blamed for brutal Ormeau attack
By Roisin Cox
ANY CREDIBILITY retained by the Parades Commission was shattered on Saturday morning last, 14 August, when a large force of body-armoured RUC officers beat peaceful nationalist protesters off the Ormeau Road to facilitate a parade of 19 members of the Apprentice Boys.
Protesters opposing the parade, which they see as a supremacist coat-trailing exercise, were forcibly removed from the street in a sustained and brutal attack by the RUC.
At 5.30am, the RUC, in full riot gear, saturated the Lower Ormeau Road area to forcibly remove 300 protesters engaged in a peaceful sit-down protest against the Parades Commission's ruling that the parade should proceed.
A savage three-hour police operation ensued, during which protesters were kicked, punched, and batoned by RUC officers determined to clear a path for the Apprentice Boys.
RUC officers surrounded the protesters on both sides. They batoned them and then dragged them off the road, one by one, in an attempt to break the human chain. Protesters were systematically struck on the head and then dragged off to a side street, where the beatings continued.
Eamonn O Dochartaigh, who was clearly identified as an independent observer from the human rights group, Action From Ireland (AFrI), had his nose broken and both hands injured. The video camera he was using was smashed. He recalled the assault by RUC officers:
``When the police charged, I was on the pavement outside the Lower Ormeau Residents' Action Group centre. I was still filming. They came at me from behind. One minute I was filming a policeman batoning a man, the next minute I got an almighty wallop and fell flat on my face. I couldn't move and I could see police boots all around me.''
O Dochartaigh was brought to the City Hospital, where it was confirmed that his nose was broken and that he had a whiplash injury to his neck.
Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley, who was also injured during the attack, has said that the RUC indiscriminately battered people off the road.
``Protesters,'' he said, ``clung to each other as the front line of those sitting on the road were brutalised by the RUC. As we held each other, batons rained down on our heads, shoulders, arms and legs. The RUC used their riot shields to lunge into the bodies of anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in the front line of those sitting down.''
An independent observer from the human rights group, Action From Ireland (AFrI), had his nose broken and both hands injured. The video camera he was using was smashed.
Gerard Rice, spokesperson for the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community, said:
``The police were brutal. It was the worst I've seen. I'm relieved no one in my community is dead.''
More serious injury to the demonstrators was only avoided by the actions of Gerard Rice. Faced with the strong probability of greater injury to the protesters, Rice led them off the Ormeau Road and into a side street, were the protest continued.
At 8.40am, as those nationalists not being treated for their injuries roared defiance, 19 Apprentice Boys displayed their supremacy as their march was allowed to proceed along the Lower Ormeau Road.
Parish Priest Anthony Curran has laid the blame for events firmly at the door of the Parades Commission. He said:
``I told Alistair Graham that he should be ashamed of himself. The Parades Commission's decision has set back the peace process.''
The unprovoked and violent attack on nationalists was a return to characteristic form by the RUC. Excessive force was enthusiastically applied in response to what was a peaceful protest.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Martin McGuinness also slammed the actions of the RUC on the Ormeau Road:
``This parade should never have happened. The brutality of the RUC against peaceful protesters on the Lower Ormeau Road once again highlights the sectarian nature of the force.''
Ormeau residents' leader Gerard Rice tries to reason with the RUC at the height of their assault on residents
DESPITE the presence of dozens of cameramen and journalists on the Ormeau Road on 14 August, it appears that a media blackout on the events and, in particular, RUC brutality was in force. Media coverage showed minor scuffles between the RUC and protesters but did nothing to highlight the inhumane way in which protesters were treated by RUC officers. The fact that cameramen did film graphic displays of RUC brutality only goes to show that, in the eyes of most major news channels, the public humiliation of nationalists by the RUC and the Apprentice Boys is not considered newsworthy. Reports of attacks on nationalist protesters on the Ormeau by the RUC were largely played down, with strong implications that the protesters were responsible for the violence.
Violent reaction to sectarian march in Derry
Ten thousand Apprentice Boys marched unrestricted through Derry city centre on Saturday, 14 August, while nationalists in the city and on Belfast's Ormeau Road were hemmed in behind police lines.
The Derry march, which was approved by the Parades Commission and facilitated by the RUC, proves that yet again the Orange Order are being given the upper hand on the parades issue. The Parades Commission, after being initially sympathetic to residents' groups on the parades issue, has now resorted to rewarding the Orange Order for any dialogue, no matter how shallow or superficial. As the situation stands, the commission is exposing its lack of understanding over the whole question of the right to live free from sectarian harassment. Instead it seems now to merely be searching for the path of least unionist resistance.
Derry had been saturated with a huge RUC presence since early on Saturday morning and most of the city centre was sealed off. A makeshift army camp was set up in Foyle Street to house a number of military vehicles and water cannons. Nationalists were hemmed into the Bogside from mid morning when the British army placed barricades over the gates leading through the city walls into the Bogside.
On Saturday morning, 700 people left Free Derry Corner and made their way to Waterloo Place, where they were blocked by RUC members dressed in full riot gear. The Parades Commission had on Friday, 13 August banned the Bogside Residents Group (BRG) protest from going past Waterloo Place in the city centre.
BRG spokesperson Donncha MacNiallais, addressing the rally, slammed the Parades Commission for undermining the work done in recent years in order to resolve the parades issue and said that once again the message from the Parades Commission was ``croppies lie down''.
Tensions caused by the Parades Commission ruling and exasperated by the massive combined RUC and British Army presence escalated as it became clear from news reports that nationalists on the Lower Ormeau in Belfast had been beaten off the road by the RUC to facilitate the Apprentice Boys.
Appealing for calm, MacNiallais asked the marchers to return to Free Derry corner, but several hundred people, clearly frustrated and angry, remained at RUC lines in protest.
Violence flared a short time later when missiles were thrown at the RUC, who made repeated charges on the crowd, and later a small number petrol bombs were thrown by protesters and a number of arrests were made.
RUC claims that 130 petrol bombs were thrown have been challenged by journalists who witnessed the violence. They reported the real figure at nearer to 30. Vehicles were also hijacked but were removed before they could be set alight.
The rioting eventually died down in the early evening when the RUC withdrew from the area.
Donncha MacNiallais has laid the blame for the violence firmly at the door of the Parades Commission and the RUC. He said: ``The ultimate responsibility for any trouble rests solely and squarely on the shoulders of the RUC and behind that decision to force parades through here and through the Ormeau Road''.
RUC brutality was again in force during the rioting, when an officer in riot gear headbutted a man as he tried to leave Treacey's bar to return home. As the man attempted to leave the bar he was ordered to get back inside. When he protested that he wanted to go home, he was headbutted in the face by an RUC officer who was wearing a crash helmet. The man was then arrested and dragged to a nearby RUC Land Rover.
Further violence flared and continued late on Saturday night with several shops and buildings petrol bombed and set on fire. The cost of rioting is set to run into millions as does the loss of earnings as the city was forced to close to facilitate the march.
McGuinness - Violence not orchestrated by republicans
Sinn Féin Assembly member Martin McGuinness has hit back at claims made by RUC assistant chief constable Alan McQuillan that Saturday's violence in Derry was orchestrated by republicans.
On Friday, 13 August, McQuillan claimed that he been told by community leaders that there was going to be widespread violence and that petrol bombs were being stockpiled.
McGuinness said: ``Alan McQuillan's remarks were more to do with justifying the actions of the RUC on the Lower Ormeau and the very heavy military presence which the RUC and British army engaged in here in this town to facilitate 10,000 Apprentice Boys on their march.''
Searching past mere recriminations and condemnations, McGuinness added that the violence was a direct response by young people in the city to the Apprentice Boys' march and RUC brutality.
``Claims that republicans were attempting to orchestrate violence here have clearly been shown to be rubbish... no one has to orchestrate the young people of this city, who have the ability to organise themselves in response to political events in the North.''
RUC fire plastic bullets at protesters
By Roisin Cox
Nationalist protesters were shot at by the RUC while peacefully protesting against an Apprentice Boys feeder parade through a nationalist area in Lurgan on 14 August. Two protesters were injured during the incident.
The protest, organised by the William Street Residents Group, was designed to show opposition to the Parades Commission's decision to allow the parade to pass through the nationalist area.
William Street and the surrounding area were cordoned off at 3am and a local resident was arrested for trying to get home after a night out. Residents who gathered to protest against the Apprentice Boys march were refused entry into William Street and two were arrested. This provoked confrontation with the RUC, who fired up to eight plastic bullets, injuring two protesters.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Dara O'Hagan said afterwards: ``Like Belfast, today's parade should never have happened. The protest in opposition to this march was peaceful and dignified. Despite this fact, the RUC chose to provoke confrontation and were clearly out to cause disruption and injury.''
She appealed for calm following the RUC disturbances.
The Apprentice Boys are aiming to further raise tension in the area with plans to hold a series of weekly parades through William Street, which would not only further damage already fragile community relations but also prevent nationalists from accessing local shops every Saturday.
O Hagan said: ``At a time when dialogue is urgently required the actions of the Apprentice Boys are making the search for a negotiated resolution all the more difficult.''