23 March 2000 Edition

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Orange Hall ``celebration'' ends in tragedy


Last year's St. Patrick's Day fell on the eve of Rosemary Nelson's funeral. The Lurgan defence lawyer died as a result of a loyalist car bomb attack just two days earlier. As a mark of respect, nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road, many of whom knew Rosemary personally, cancelled their planned celebrations.

Not so at the nearby Corcrain Orange Hall, where the Lambeg drums pounded as over a hundred loyalist gathered to hurl abuse at local nationalists, taunting them about the murder of Rosemary Nelson. At one stage, a shop dummy, whose legs had been removed, was thrown over the perimeter fencing towards nationalists. A grotesque parody of the fatal injuries sustained by Rosemary in the bomb attack.

This year, with less to ``celebrate'', loyalists attending Corcrain Orange Hall for a ``stew night'' turned their attentions towards provoking a confrontation between nationalist youths and the RUC. ``It's just away of raising funds,'' said Orange marshal Alan Milligan, an elder of the Drumcree church and prominent Orange protester.

In the middle of the steel-fenced compound in which stands the Orange Hall, a loyalist in a baseball cap pounded a Lambeg drum. The pipers were from the Royal Irish Regiment, formerly the UDR, one of the most notoriously sectarian branches of the British army.

Inside the hall, according to media accounts, loyalists considered St Patrick. ``St Patrick was a Protestant, know what I mean?'' a woman told a Tribune journalist. ``They say he's patron saint of Ireland. That's not what we say. We're not Irish. No way,'' said another. And they're not eating Irish stew either. Inside Corcrain Orange Hall the menu is restricted to ``just stew.'' The scene would have been almost comic were it not for the tragedy which was unfolding outside.

``There are 39 Orange Halls in Portadown,'' says Garvaghy Road spokesperson Breandan Mac Cionnaith, ``why does this have to take place in the one that is on the edge of a nationalist area?''

Last week, the residents' coalition wrote to British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson asking for the Orange ``celebration'' to be relocated in the interests of public order. Their request was rejected.

Shortly before 6.30pm, the British Army and RUC had mounted an extensive operation involving over a hundred armoured vehicles and several hundred armed Crown force personnel.

Outside the hall, the Lambeg drum continued to pound as sectarian insults, including derogatory comments about Rosemary Nelson, were shouted across to gathering nationalist youths. Inside the compound, the accordion band plays the British national anthem. Deputy District Orange Master David Burrowes uses a megaphone to invite supporters to the hill at Drumcree. And a PA system mounted outside relayed renditions of `The Sash'.

As tension mounted, angry nationalist youths clashed with RUC men dressed in full riot gear including balaclavas and visors. ``Go on in there and get the bastards,'' roared one Orangemen. And of course they did.

Five days later and a young Catholic teenager is still lying in a hospital bed in Belfast's Royal Group. He breathes with the aid of an oxygen mask and requires a morphine drip to control his pain. He drifts in and out of consciousness.

According to local accounts the teenager was beaten by a gang of riot clad RUC officers. He was then dragged into the back of a RUC Landrover where the beating continued. The upper thigh bone of one of his legs was smashed completely from the thigh to his knee. Surgeons operating to save the limb have inserted a pin into his hip and a second in his knee.

``This does not constitute a `reasonable use of force' in any circumstances,'' says Breandan Mac Cionnaith, ``this young man's life has been destroyed by the RUC.''

An Phoblacht
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