Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

1 June 2000 Edition

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Loyalist terror at cross-community event

By Caítlin Doherty

It was a night that the Catholic pupils of Drumcree College and their Protestant counterparts from Portadown College were looking forward to. A concert held on Tuesday in Portadown featuring Irish flautist James Galway and Maire Brennan from Clannad was intended to help the pupils raise funds for a trip to Canada.

It was in a spirit of openness and tolerance that over 1,000 people, including Orangeman and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson attended the concert in St John's Chapel on the Garvaghy Road.

During the concert, however, Orangemen and loyalist supporters engaged in a simultaneous drum-banging contest on Drumcree hill, a stone's throw from the function. Eight Lambeg drums could be heard in the distance.

The cross-community event then turned into a nightmare when over 300 loyalist protestors turned up for the follow-up reception at Portadown College on the Killicomaine road. Teachers, parents and pupils were trapped in the school as mayhem erupted around them. The RUC and British Army were deployed in force as loyalists shouted abuse and threw missiles at the RUC lines and the school. Several cars were damaged during the protest.

Many nationalists who were participating in the event had to abandon their plans to attend the reception when they were turned back at RUC check-points and told that their security couldn't be guaranteed if they travelled to the school for the reception.

The traumatic experience has added to the tensions that have already been running high after a series of attacks on Catholic homes in Portadown on 17 March. News that the Portadown LOL is holding a mass rally at Drumcree hill on Saturday 3 June has also increased fears of further trouble. Residents have already been placed under curfew for over 24 hours to facilitate a 27 May Orange Order parade on the Lower Garvaghy Road.


Orange parade passes Garvaghy Road


Living free from sectarian harassment, what would it mean? A Saturday afternoon picnic with your children at the local park? A shopping trip into town? Or just being able to walk unmolested to the end of your street?

For nationalist residents living on the Garvaghy Road, these simple forms of recreation are routinely denied. Last Saturday was no exception, following the Parades Commission's decision to allow a junior Orange march to take place at the bottom of Garvaghy Road.

Before midnight on Friday the British Army and RUC moved into the Garvaghy estate in force. By mid afternoon, armoured vehicles, heavily armed British paratroopers and the RUC riot squad are already deployed along the Garvaghy Road. Inside the local park, lines of RUC Land Rovers and British Army armoured Saxons line the pathway from the nationalist Obins area of Portadown to Garvaghy Road.

All this to allow a handful of members of the junior Orange Order to parade where they're not welcome. Indeed, the main Orange parade had been held in Belfast earlier in the day. Garvaghy Road was a 30-mile detour, but who's counting when there's an opportunity to harass the `taigs'?


Tense atmosphere

``Asking the Orange Order not to march in nationalist areas is like asking the Ku Klux Klan to burn crosses on their own front lawn,'' says a resident, ``What would be the point?''

There has been no protest rally organised but inevitably local people gather as the Orange parade is due to take place. At the entrance to the Garvaghy Road, the British Army erect a 30- foot armoured partition. RUC officers in full riot gear stand behind riot shields, their batons and plastic bullet guns at the ready.

On the Garvaghy Road, elderly pensioners, parents with their children and young people face the hostility of the Crown forces. Amongst the crowd, residents' spokesperson Breandán MacCionnaith chats with a local priest.

Assembly members Dara O'Hagan and Brid Rodgers are also here to lend their support. Monitors from human rights group the Committee for the Administration of Justice mingle with the crowd.

Inevitably a few children throw a few stones. The RUC are furious but this time they do not respond. Inside the park, a stand off between a handful of local teenagers and the RUC almost escalates into a more dangerous situation.

On a narrow bridge which straddles the river the RUC riot squad regroup. Increasing the tension, the RUC bring out their dogs. The dogs growl and bark. More RUC Land Rovers arrive through a side entrance and the crowd suddenly fears it's going to be cut off and ambushed.

The sun is still shining as late afternoon becomes early evening. Just a few yards away, a children's playground, with its swings and slides, remains empty. There's an Orange march at the bottom of the Garvaghy Road; there'll be no playing today.


Parades Commission guilty of double stands


Changes in the criteria cited by the Parades Commission in a recent ruling which allowed an Orange parade along the bottom of the Garvaghy Road last week may signal a greater likelihood of an Orange march being forced down the Garvaghy Road later this year.

Local residents fear that that Parades Commission have adopted a double standard which will allow them to ignore the objections of local residents and rule in favour of the Orange Order's application to parade through the nationalist area.

It's a signal from the Parades Commission which has not been lost on local Portadown Orangemen who are lobbying the Grand Lodge to change their position of not talking to the Parades Commission for a more concilitary stance.

``In recognising the rights of those who protest,'' says the Parades Commission, ``we will take note of the lawfullness and peacefulness of any such protests and this may be reflected in our future decisions.''

``The Parades Commission has repeatedly refused to take account of the hundreds of illegal Orange parades which have taken place in Portadown in recent years,'' says Breandán Mac Cionnaith of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, ``they've actively ignored the fact that this community has been persistantly harassed and bullied by the Orange Order determined to march where they are not wanted.

``Now we are being told that the legality or illegality of protests objecting to an Orange parade along the Garvaghy Road by local residents may determine whether or not an Orange march is forced through this area.''


An Phoblacht
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