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6 July 2000 Edition

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Orange Order must end siege

Calls for the Orange Order to end their siege of the Garvaghy Road have intensified this week as loyalist violence has erupted in Portadown and Belfast.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has described the situation as ``hugely dangerous'' and said also that the RUC are ``tolerating street barricades by loyalists''.

``How many people have been arrested?'' Adams asked, pointing to the wrongful arrest of Garvaghy Residents' representative Breandán Mac Cionnaith this week for attempting to diffuse a potentially violent situation.

``The toleration of people like Johnny Adair and UFF intimidation of course raises the temperature, but it also raises the possibility of someone unfortunate arriving at a roadblock and being attacked.

``The Orange Order are attempting to distance themselves from responsibility for all of this,'' Adams said, warning nationalists to be on their guard.

While the Sinn Féin leader believes that ``increasingly elements of unionism are accepting that we have the right to equality'', he slammed ``reactionary elements of unionism'' for generating sectarian tensions this week. ``The DUP are in the leadership. A lot of the people in the Portadown Orange Order, who are fomenting this, are members or supporters or fellow travellers of the DUP. And of course, the UFF and other loyalists are part of this as well - the responsibility lies with that reactionary element of unionism.''

Adams was speaking following a meeting with the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, at Government Buildings on Wednesday, 5 July. While the immediate issue of loyalist violence and the Orange Order marches topped the agenda, the Sinn Féin President also drew attention to commitments made by the British Government in May. He made particular reference to policing and demilitarisation; the representation of elected representatives from the Six Counties in the Oireachtas; and Dublin government spending of the budgetary surplus. Adams raised the failure of the government to share the wealth of the `Tiger Economy' and the need to focus the budgetary surplus on rejuvenating deprived areas of the country.

He reiterated his call for calm and called on people to be vigilant in areas where nationalists are under threat and said to those contemplating violence to ``keep your eye on the big picture''.

``I uphold the right of the Orangemen to march,'' Adams said, ``but this type of coat-trailing exercise, which is an affront to the local community, is unacceptable. The business community and community sectors in unionist areas need to raise their voices, because Catholics are frightened''.

In response to a question on the DUP motion in the Assembly this week, calling for Sinn Féin to be expelled from the Executive, Assembly member for West Tyrone Pat Doherty dismissed the move as an ``electoral stunt''.

``Many members of the DUP serve on councils and committees throughout the north with Sinn Féin representatives and under Sinn Féin chairpersons. It is highly hypocritical of them to make this move.''

The DUP were this week accused of `playing musical chairs' when they decided to resign their representatives on the Executive, Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds, only to put another two DUP members in their place. The Alliance Party deputy leader, Séamus Close, said that the DUP plan was comical. ``With Peter in and Peter out, Nigel in and Nigel out, they do the hokey-cokey and they change them around, that's what it's all about,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin were again busy lobbying in London and further afield as the Police Bill concluding its committee stage before it is put to the British House of Commons next week. Party chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin, Assembly member for Foyle and South Dublin County Councillor, Seán Crowe, discussed the British proposals with the leaders of all the main political groupings in the European Parliament and most of the Irish MEPs.

The Sinn Féin representatives voiced republicans' concerns over the British government's response to implementing the Patten Proposals. They acknowledged that MEPs have little direct power in this area, ``but, clearly, MEPs are influential and we have asked them to use whatever channels are available to them to give substance to their views as communicated to us that Patten should be implemented in full,'' said McLaughlin.

North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly will today be in London to (Thursday, 6 July) brief members of the Foreign Press Association and the American press corps on the Policing Bill and matters relating to the Drumcree dispute.

Kelly will point out that the Peter Mandelson Bill ``fully addresses only 11 of the Patten Proposals, while `subverting' 89 of the other resolutions. There is insufficient information in the Bill on the other 75 proposals for Sinn Féin to make a full response to them.

``There is a massive gulf between the Mandelson Bill and what is actually needed. Mandelson has failed to go anywhere near what is required,'' Kelly told An Phoblacht. ``We will continue to lobby all those who have influence over the formulation of the final bill.''


Orange Order tactics ``unacceptable''

Parades Commission vindicates Garvaghy residents' concerns


``This is a total vindication of everything that we always said.'' That was Breandán Mac Cionnaith's response to the determination of the Parades Commission on Monday, banning the Orange Order from marching down the Garvaghy Road this Sunday, 9 July.

The Parades Commission has tried time and time again to alert the Orange Order to the unacceptable nature of the strategy it has pursued. The strategy has progressively undermined whatever hope there might have been for securing a local agreement in relation to the Drumcree church parade
Along with its determination, the Commission also issued some carefully worded but nevertheless stinging criticisms of the Order's behaviour and tactics over the past number of years. In a document detailing the background to the dispute which accompanied the determination, the Commission says of the Order's insistence on filing continuously for parades and its prolonged siege of the Garvaghy Road: ``The Parades Commission has tried time and time again to alert the Orange Order to the unacceptable nature of the strategy it has pursued. The strategy has progressively undermined whatever hope there might have been for securing a local agreement in relation to the Drumcree church parade.''

The document also severely criticises the Order for its refusal to engage in discussion or negotiation with the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, saying that ``there has been insufficient effort by the Portadown District to address and accommodate the legitimate concerns of the residents of the Garvaghy Road. The Portadown District does its case no good by refusing to face up to the reality that the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition enjoys widespread support from the nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road. The District's refusal to engage with the residents' representatives tends to reinforce the residents' views that the Orange Order sees nationalists as second class citizens.''

The Commission refutes the Portadown District's claim that the threatening behaviour, often culminating in violence against the nationalist population which has become such a feature of life in Portadown, is unconnected to its own activities, saying:

``Another key feature of the Drumcree dispute is the violence that has been associated with it. The Orange Order cannot wholly escape responsibility for bringing thousands of people onto the streets in circumstances which led to serious large scale rioting, assaults and other unlawful acts across much of Northern Ireland in 1996 and 1998. The ongoing protest vigil and the applications to complete the parade route which have been submitted each week since July 1998 provide a constant stimulus to the high level of tension in the area... We have received disturbing evidence about the stress that this has imposed on the residents in the Garvaghy Road area.''

And of the Portadown District Lodge's insistence that it has made numerous attempts to enter into dialogue - despite its longstanding refusal to talk to the residents' representatives or to recognise the Commission - the Commission notes that ``the continuation and recent intensification of its protest action and irresponsible comments which have been made by spokesmen for the Portadown District about the prospects for a peaceful outcome to this year's parade, do not suggest any fundamental shift in the District's position''.

After the disgraceful scenes which have accompanied the marches in previous years, the Commission also noted that: ``There is continuing evidence that parades organised by or in support of the the Portadown District LOL No.1 have breached the Commission's Code of Conduct . Despite making adherence to the Code a condition for such parades taking place, offensive language and gestures continue to be used by participants and music that is perceived to be sectarian is played at sensitive interface areas and outside churches.''

In his statement, however, the Commission Chairman, Tony Holland, did describe the circumstances in which the Parades Commission believes that a limited parade could take place along the Garvaghy Road ``ideally within the next three to eight months''. Those conditions are that the Order:

- ``Complies with the terms of the Commission's determination'' - in other words, that it recognises the Parades Commission;

- Introduces an immediate moratorium upon Drumcree-related protest parades and demonstrations;

- Avoids any actions which could reasonably be perceived as an incitement to break the law or which are intentionally designed to raise inter-communal tension;

- Engages, along with the representatives of the Garvaghy Road Residents, in the Currin initiative and in any civic forum that may be established and

- Undertakes that, following any parade, the protest vigil at Drumcree will not resume.

Critically, however, the Commission also said that it could not ``envisage circumstances in which any subsequent Orange Order parade could take place along the Garvaghy Road except on the basis of a local agreement'', a statement which recognises that, should the Order accept the conditions - which it has already said it will not - and should the residents therefore agree to a limited parade, such a march would in all likelihood be the last of its kind on the Garvaghy Road. The circumstances of such a march would, of course, also set a precedent for other disputed Orange marches around the Six Counties.

Whilst the determination has been welcomed by residents' representatives - who after all have themselves long said much the same thing about the experience of nationalists living in Portadown as the Commission's background document now does - the continuing negativity of the Order, whilst predictable is, still a source of anger and disappointment.

Garvaghy Road independent councillor Joe Duffy, who has also been in the forefront of fighting for residents' rights, told An Phoblacht that that he believes ``the majority of the Protestant community does not want anything to do with this. The Orange Order is only a small part of the community but it is they who have held the state in a vice-like grip from its inception. But the rantings of Harold Gracey tell us where the Orange Order is really going. They are not prepared to move forward on the basis of equality. Gracey was telling Orangemen that this country is `going to the dogs'. What does he mean by that? What he means is that Orangeism should be in the ascendancy.''

Mac Cionnaith arrest outs RUC bigots


The already high levels of tension in Portadown ahead of the first Orange Order march on Sunday 2 July were heightened still further - and completely unnecessarily - when residents' leader Councillor Breandán Mac Cionnaith was arrested by the RUC on Saturday 1 July. Mac Cionnaith had gone to try and resolve some minor disturbances which broke out on Garvaghy Road when a large force of RUC moved in to protect loyalists putting up an Orange Arch at the bottom of the Garvaghy Road.

Mac Cionnaith was at home on Saturday morning when local residents came to him to inform him about a strong RUC presence at the arch. By that stage, five young nationalists had already been arrested.

``I went up there and spoke to a group of nationalists and then went over to speak to an RUC inspector to ask him what was happening,'' he told An Phoblacht. ``He completely blanked me; just totally ignored me, but I told him that I was going down to try and keep a lid on things.''

At that point, however, an RUC Land Rover drew up and Mac Cionnaith was arrested and bundled into the vehicle. A young man who approached the officers to enquire about what was happening was then also arbitrarily arrested and thrown into the back of the Land Rover.

MacCionnaith was taken, together with those others arrested, to Lurgan RUC barracks and held for two and a quarter hours before being charged with assault, disorderly conduct and behaviour likely to incite a breach of the peace. He was also cautioned with obstruction after he refused, on the advise of his solicitor Pádraigín Drinan, to give fingerprints or DNA samples. Drinan, who represents the residents of the Garvaghy Road, was also threatened with arrest and obstruction charges after she advised all those detained to do the same on the grounds that the charges being brought against them were unfair. Mac Cionnaith was released on £500 bail and is due to appear in court in a fortnight's time.

When he refused to provide fingerprints, Mac Cionnaith was also threatened with violence. ``Six officers came into the room and told me `We can do this by force if we have to','' he said, although once he pointed out that such a course of action would require the written authorisation of the senior officer, the threat did not materialise.

However, Saturday's events were, as Mac Cionnaith points out, not really about the small incident at the Orange arch at all. ``What it was actually about was these RUC men, who are going to have to police decisions that they don't agree with during the next few weeks, thinking `because of him we are going to have to be attacked by fellow members of the loyalist community, so let's get one back'.''


Catholic forced out in sectarian attack

Belfast man Colin O'Brien became the first Catholic to be driven out of his home as the impact from the Parades Commission's decision to ban Portadown Orangemen marching the Garvaghy Road hit home last Sunday, 2 July.

Within hours of the ban and 12 hours before the Commission announced that this year's Drumcree Parade would also not be allowed to return to Carlton Street Orange Hall through Garvaghy Road, loyalists struck at O'Brien's Fortwilliam Parade home.

O'Brien told An Phoblacht that as the loyalist gang smashed their way into the house in the mainly Protestant North Belfast street, he fought to protect himself and his pregnant girlfriend, Lisa Magee, who was staying the night.

``We are lucky to be alive'', said O'Brien, as he described how the gang tried to smash in the windows of his home but couldn't do so because of perspex sheeting he had fitted.

Instead, they broke through the front door using iron bars. O'Brien got Lisa to lie on the floor and protected her with pillows as he held the sitting room door closed.

The couple called the RUC twice in the course of the attack, yet it took the RUC over 20 minutes to respond.

At times almost close to tears, Lisa described her terror as the gang smashed their way into the house - ``Colin kept shouting that I was pregnant but it didn't stop them''.

The 25-year-old New Lodge woman also said that when the RUC arrived they weren't interested in catching the intruders, but when her brother and his friend arrived the RUC stopped them going into the house.

According to the couple, the RUC were aggressive and threatened to arrest her brother and his friend and assaulted them as they tried to force their way past the RUC into the house.

New Lodge Sinn Féin councillor Gerard Brophy, who was contacted by the couple, went to the scene and organised a group of New Lodge residents to help clear the house of belongings.

Brophy told An Phoblacht that the Housing Executive is supposed to have vans on stand by in the event of such an emergency, but on this occasion a van was not sent out.

Widespread sectarian attacks

Loyalists strike within hours of Gracey's remarks

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly says that Portadown Orangeman Harold Gracey must accept responsibility for his words in the wake of widespread loyalist violence throughout the north over the past four nights.

Speaking after the Orange Order was banned from marching along the Garvaghy Road on Sunday 2 July, Gracey attempted to rally loyalists onto the streets saying: ``This battle is not about Drumcree. It is about the Orange Order, it's about the Protestant people.

``If they don't get off their bellies before it is too late this country [sic] will be gone''.

At the same time, Orangeman Mark Harbison from Stoneyford climbed aboard an RUC Land Rover and addressed hundreds of Orangemen who had attempted to break through the RUC lines to march to Garvaghy Road. ``This is Ulster's Alamo'', said Harbison.

In November last year, the files of hundreds of nationalists were found in Stoneyford Orange Hall. It is believed that the Orange Volunteers had hidden the files, which came from the crown forces, in the Orange Hall.

Before Sunday was out, loyalists had attacked the RUC at Drumcree Church and carried out a petrol bomb attack on a Catholic family in the Westland Road area of North Belfast. At 11.45pm a petrol bomb was thrown through the window of the house, then two men were attacked by a 15-strong loyalist gang as they left the house. Both escaped but required hospital treatment.

On Monday 3 July, loyalist attacks continued and it was reported that a man driving into Garvaghy Road was attacked by loyalists. His ten-year-old daughter was in the car at the time.

Sporadic incidents of rioting and hijacking went on throughout loyalists areas of the North, particularly in North Belfast, where a 60-strong mob attacked the Brookfield Mill Complex on Crumlin Road. When the RUC arrived on the scene a car carrying loyalists attempted to ram the RUC car and according to an eye witness the RUC fired, ``about five or six shots'', into the air.

Vehicles were set on fire in the loyalist Tiger's Bay area of North Belfast while loyalists blocked roads in South Down. DUP assembly member Jim Wells was among the protesters who blockaded Clough on Sunday night.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a Catholic-owned electrical shop in Ahoghill was destroyed in an arson attack. According to reports, roof tiles were removed and petrol poured through the gap and set alight. The shop was gutted.

Trouble flared again as early as Tuesday afternoon, when loyalists came through the `peace wall' at Workman Avenue on the Springfield Road to paint bomb nationalist houses. The RUC has now closed Lanark Way, which connects the Shankill Road and the Springfield Road, due to the threat of loyalist activity.

On Tuesday night, petrol bombs were thrown over the Springfield Road `peace wall' at nationalist homes, although none hit their targets.

That night, loyalist mobs came on to the streets in force.

North Belfast saw most of the trouble, as up to 200 loyalists gathered in Carlisle Circus. The loyalists blocked roads and put up flags in the area. Last week, the Circus Tavern was torched by the UDA just days after a leading UFF leader was spotted in the bar. The previous week, a UDA gang threatened bar staff, warning that they ``would take further action if any UDA flags flying in Carlisle Circus were tampered with''.

Further up the Antrim Road at Glandore Avenue, an off licence and chemist shop was burned out by a UDA gang, as were a number of empty flats. As on the previous night, the loyalists came out of Cambrai Street to attack the Brookfield Mill. After breaking through the gate they set fire to a number of offices.

When local residents gathered, the loyalists withdrew on to Crumlin Road. A number of republican activists took the opportunity to lock the gates. Using a car chain and padlock, they managed to secure the gates.

One of the most vulnerable areas in North Belfast is Ligoniel, and over the past number of nights loyalist mobs have blocked the only road into the area. However on Tuesday at about 10pm, a gang of loyalists attacked the home of a couple who are in a mixed marriage. The loyalists dragged the couple's car into road and burnt it. They then smashed their way into the house and ransacked it. The couple fled through the back door.

The nationalist Short Strand in East Belfast is another vulnerable area that came under attack from loyalists. Although most of the loyalist activity up until Monday was confined to blocking roads in their own areas, there were stone throwing incidents along both the Newtownards Road and the Albertbridge Road.

One house on the Albertbridge Road come under sustained ball bearing attacks. Throughout the night, up to 50 petrol bombs were thrown at St Matthew's chapel on the Newtownards Road. A local man told An Phoblacht that the loyalist plan seemed to be to burn down the thick bushes to clear the way for further attacks on the chapel.

A doctor's surgery and a chemist's shop near the Newtownards Road and Madrid Street junction were also attacked and loyalists made their way up Madrid Street, intent on attacking Catholic homes, but soon retreated.

In the course of the last four nights, loyalist gunmen have fired on the RUC, with the RUC returning fire on at least three occasions.


Observer status

Simon Adams, President of the West Australian branch of Australian Aid for Ireland (a republican solidarity group) is the first Australian to be invited to Ireland to act as an international observer of the loyalist marching season. Here, he gives his impressions so far.

As the first Australian to be invited over by the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition to act as an international observer for the Drumcree dispute, I prepared myself by reading various books about the Orange Order. I also discussed the marching season with fellow members of Australian Aid for Ireland who had immigrated from Portadown and with relatives in Belfast. As such, I considered myself not unprepared for what I would see on the Garvaghy Road.

However, no book or television image could adequately prepare me for the Orange parade that stomped past the top of the Garvaghy Road last Sunday. I stood with residents as about 1,500 Orangemen marched to the beat of a solitary drum. Between us and them was a solid line of at least 50 armoured jeeps, soldiers in combat fatigues, RUC men dressed in riot gear and dogs - just in case. Residents trying to attend Mass had to wind their way past the soldiers and dogs in order to get into the chapel. Orangemen and their supporters occasionally glared through the lines of armed men at us.

Although there was no violence that morning, there was something deeply disturbing about the scene I witnessed. Coming from Australia, I am not accustomed to seeing grown men march in formation with swords and bowler hats. The truth is, knowing what the Orange Order represents, in real life they don't look ridiculous to me - they look menacing. The silence only made the situation seem somehow more ominous. I kept thinking of Robert Hamill, kicked to death in the town centre less than a mile away, and of the three Quinn boys, murdered in Ballymoney so that the Orange Order might get down the Garvaghy Road.

Later that afternoon, a riot started up at the Drumcree Church and I watched through binoculars as loyalists threw stones at the RUC. Down in the Garvaghy Road residents' centre everyone was analysing the day's events and trying to guess what would happen next. The hospitality and humility of ordinary people there, who welcomed me into their homes and fed me, was genuinely touching. Outside, children were playing hurley, oblivious to the Army helicopter hovering over Drumcree church and the rioting. I couldn't help but hope that the Orange Order would just walk away from Drumcree and allow these children to enjoy their lives without soldiers and sectarian parades. They deserve nothing less. Tóg slí eile.


Order attracts sinister elements

By Fern Lane

During what subsequent events have proved to be the calm before the storm in Portadown last Saturday afternoon, it felt very odd indeed to be able to drive into the Garvaghy Road in the run-up to a banned Orange march in an almost complete absence of any military or RUC presence. That this should feel strange is in itself a telling reflection on the conditions which the residents have been forced to endure over the past number of years. During the two Julys after the infamous forced march in 1997, when residents were beaten off the road in order to facilitate the Orange Order parade, anyone attempting to get in or out of the area during the weekend before 12 July `celebrations', either by car or on foot, had to negotiate their way through 20-foot high metal gates, huge concrete bollards, rolls of barbed and razor wire and wall-to-wall British Army personnel. That was before running the gauntlet of loyalist hatred, should they dare venture into the town centre.

Although the banning of the 2 July parade was initially considered less likely to spark massive protest by the Orange Order and their various supporters and hangers-on than that of the main event on 9 July, the amount of sectarian sabre-rattling, warnings of chaos and increasingly desperate pleadings for mass support by the Portadown District spokesmen in the weeks leading up to 2 July did seem to warrant more of a security presence at the Garvaghy Road interfaces than one, apparently deserted, RUC Land Rover sitting in the car park of the St John the Baptist chapel. For the first time in some five years, it was possible on the day before the Portadown's District's pre-12th march to drive out of the estate and past Drumcree Church without running into a police or army roadblock.

Given that the estate was so easily accessible, it was not surprising that the occupants of one or two cars which drove past the community centre or past the church into the estate should shout indistinct abuse and make gestures to anyone identified as the enemy - a finger drawn across the throat seemed to be the most frequently employed.

In the community centre itself, the atmosphere was also subtly different to previous years. Even though it was by no means completely certain that the Parades Commission would ban the march on 9 July, there was far less of that sense of palpable fear of what might happen during the night that characterised 1998 and 1999. After Mo Mowlam's betrayal of the residents in 1997, many of them had in the following two years felt compelled to wait up through several sleepless nights before and after the march, worrying about and preparing for the same thing to happen again.

It could be that there is a feeling that some kind of psychological shift has taken place in the British government towards the Orange Order, perhaps brought about by a practical realisation, long overdue, of just how difficult it is to deal with - and that its `loyalty' is little more than a figment of the imagination. It could also be a sense that, as well as the day to day struggle on the ground on Garvaghy Road, the wider moral and intellectual argument in respect of the right of nationalists not to have to put up with everything which goes with Orangeism has also been won. Even so, the relief when the determination of the Parades Commission was announced on Monday was tempered by anxiety about the wider effects of refusing the march, particularly on other small nationalist communities throughout the Six Counties if loyalist paramilitaries took it upon themselves to become directly involved.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, crown forces moved in to seal off the estate and the march itself passed off without incident. Members of the Orange Order were clearly told by their superiors not to repeat the antics of last year and, although it clearly was desperately difficult for many of them not to gesture at the church or hurl sectarian abuse at the residents as they passed by, they did manage to restrain themselves. But still some were not able to resist the deliberate intimidation of pointing video cameras at anyone standing in the grounds of the chapel. It was notable that the march was very much smaller than in previous years; the Portadown District has around 1,500 members and even the most generous estimate of the numbers on the parade could not have put the figure at more than that. Those gathering in the lane outside the church could also not have numbered more than a few hundred, a stark contrast to previous years, when the adjoining fields were a sea of orange.

The point at which things began to get a lot more ugly - reaching beyond the immediate environs of Portadown - was Monday evening, when the recently and unnaturally muscled Johnny Adair pitched up mob-handed with several dozen members of the UDA, complete with matching T-shirts and garish banner to offer their support to their friends in the Orange Order and to posture in front of RUC lines. That such a thing could be allowed to happen without any arrests being made is in itself an outrage, and although their appearance clearly has as much to do with the power struggles going on within the various strands of loyalism as with Drumcree itself, the message being sent out to Catholics all over the Six Counties was clear; more atrocities are in the making.

The Orange Order may not so far have been able to mobilise the masses as they have in previous years, but they continue to be able to attract the most sinister and dangerous elements of loyalism, who have made themselves available to conduct a campaign of terror against the residents of the Garvaghy Road and the wider nationalist population.


The calm before the storm


I recently found a very, very special place that makes Donegal's Gortahork look like the London underground during the rush hour. We Irish are a laid back people well we like to think we are - certainly when compared to the Brits, but next to the Portuguese we are well on our way to a locked ward suffering from burnout, hyper-stress and mania.

Cardigos is very close to the centre of Portugal - now it's very close to the centre of me.

It was a ``font Romano'' - a Roman spa - 2,000 years ago. The water is delicious, filtered through a mountain.

Danny Morrison, a few years ago, spoke of having to ransack his memories in prison. A captive writer, he said that smells triggered memories, images, feelings. I now know what he means.

Everywhere in central Portugal there are trees, not blankets of Coillte conifers, but a patchwork of various hues and breeds.

The fragrances of these trees envelop you as you race up the mountain road. I can still smell them.

The mountain highway could've been the location for car chases in a clutch on Bond movies. I would've taken the bends like Victor Meldrew on mogadon, but my driver was a local, expert in her open-topped whoosh machine. No problema baby.

Before I left on this trip I had a mind to write something about Portugal, some serious Derrig on the legacy of Salazar, Portugal the coloniser who flirted with communism and is now part of the EU project etc etc.

But feck it, I had a much better time than that.

Maybe you'll get that from me later - but I'm writing this up and Ive just packed my wee on-the-trot bag for Portadown, so forgive me if I concentrate positives before I'm away to the drumbangers' Mecca.

Cardigos captivated me and if you can't handle that then turn the page - the staff at An Phoblacht have had to put up with a happy Derrig this week - disconcerting for them no doubt.

It's only when you're parachuted into a culture that is intact and viable that you begin to fully realise the cultural Everest we have yet to climb after 800 years of British rule.

Outside the Algarve and Lisbon you are in a Portugal you don't get in any package trip. By the end of my week I was speaking toddler Portugese; no-one spoke English in Cardigos. It was the Oideas Gael way to Portugese - immersion, glug, glug, glug.

By the end of my week with them, I could tell Christina, the Bean an Tí of the café that was my daytime billet, that her ``Vermelha'' (red) hair was proof that we Celts had indeed travelled through this part of Iberia on our way to the wintry isles via Galicia.

Not bad for a two-year-old! She could've been an extra on Dancing at Lughnasa.

The main reason for the journey was to conduct research for a TV series about where Irishmen had fought and died for Britain in past centuries. The local provincial town, Castelo Branco, is a natural invasion route from Spain into the heart of Portugal. How many of our own died here under Englands red rag?

This is probably the only part of continental Europe I have been in where England isn't automatically the bad guy. England, for her own geopolitical reasons, found it expedient to assist brave little Portugal against big aggressive Spain.

When people discovered - through my playgroup Portugese - that I was ``o homems a nacionalidade Irlandais'' they asked me why England wouldnt just pack up and leave Ireland in peace. Even if I had University Portugese I couldnt answer that one.

When I explained that, historically, England had been Ireland's Espana, there were smiles of recognition, appreciation and understanding around the tables.

Portugal's capital, Lisbon, is noticeably and refreshingly multi-racial. A legacy, no doubt, of Portugal's colonial history. I was interested to learn that Portugal has the lowest recorded number of ``avowed racists''.

The EU collects such stats. I don't know if they actually mean anything, but there was a decided lack of racist graffiti and there wasn't the inter-racial tension that you can detect up in London and, let's face it, Dublin.

Why this should be so in a country that was in 1974 still fascist dictatorship and a colonial power I don't know. Perhaps it is how they decolonised without a protracted Vietnam type conflict.

The centre of that colonial system changed. Mozambique and Angola got their independence whether they wanted it or not.

We have endured a much different breed of coloniser.

OK, the lift's here, I'm off to observe Sammy in the wild. My next dispatch from the front will not, I fear, be nearly as sunny.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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