19 April 2001 Edition
Foot and Mouth reprieve for Lower Ormeau
BY FERN LANE
Two new confirmed outbreaks of Foot and Mouth disease, one in Tyrone and the other in Antrim, finally persuaded the Ballynafeigh Apprentice boys not to force their march, assisted by the RUC and British Army, down the Lower Ormeau Road on Easter Monday.
In the face of a looming agricultural disaster, they took a decision on Saturday evening to postpone the unwanted parade, but have nevertheless maintained their 'right' to hold a parade, a 'right' granted by the Parades Commission. The Commission's ruling, announced early in April, was upheld by the High Court in Belfast on Wednesday after being challenged by the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community, despite the fact that the Commission was found to have breached its own guidelines in arriving at its decision.
Residents of the Lower Ormeau have little doubt that the Commission's decision was made on the basis of political considerations - and with one eye on the Garvaghy Road - and have vigorously disputed the Commission's assertion that the Apprentice Boys had engaged in ``sustained and meaningful dialogue'' with residents.
The PC went on to say that ``it is this sustained commitment which is of relevance, rather than the lack of success in the talks process to date''. In other words, the loyal orders will be rewarded with the forcing through of marches in areas where they are not wanted simply by appearing to talk to residents, regardless of how feeble the effort and insincere the intention to reach any agreement may be. This stance could have serious consequences for the residents of the Garvaghy Road. Portadown Orangemen have been sent a message that such pretence on their part is very likely to be rewarded in a similar fashion to the Apprentice Boys.
What the Commission's ruling, and the High Court's upholding of it, did not address was whether the Apprentice Boys' desire to march through a nationalist area is a reasonable or legitimate one in the first place, and in this they have been supported by a number of churchmen, who have encouraged the residents to submit to a display of supremacy rather than challenge Orangemen to explain why such essentially racist displays are so integral to their sense of cultural identity.
However, the decision, if necessary, to force a march through did attract criticism from some quarters, particularly from human rights groups. Donald Payne and Cynthia McKinney, members of the US House of Representatives, wrote to the Parades Commission on 13 April to express their dismay at the decision to allow a march, saying that the decision was ``of particular concern given the explicit promise contained in the Good Friday Agreement, that everyone has the right to live free from the fear of sectarian harassment''. They went on: ``It is beyond dispute that it is the clearly expressed view of this community that they regard these parades as a severe form of sectarian harassment. It is also their clearly expressed wish not to have to suffer these intrusions into their community.
``The Parades Commission's decision is all the more disturbing considering that this community has suffered more than 50 deaths at the hands of loyalist gunmen during the past 30 years. We understand that the route of the parade passes sites where mass murders by loyalist terrorists occurred.''
The Pat Finucane Centre said that the decision not to hold a parade on Easter Monday had ``defused a very tense situation on the Ormeau Road - for now.
``In averting an immediate crisis the move means that the Apprentice Boys have been able to maintain their 'right' to march, as granted by the Parades' Commission and upheld by the courts, without having to see it forced through by the RUC and British Army, thus avoiding any negative publicity.''
McGuinness calls for support for farmers
After spending the greater part of his time in Ardboe since the confirmation of the Foot and Mouth case in the area, Martin McGuinness, MP for the Mid-Ulster constituency, said:
``Everywhere I went there was a sense of devastation but everyone's immediate sympathy was with the Donnelly family and the wider farming community.
``I would echo the sentiments of those closest to the Donnelly's that Paddy Donnelly is an exemplary farmer and should receive the help and support of the general community at this most difficult time. The immediate task before us is establishing the cause and source of this infection in Ardboe and containment of the outbreak. This is of the most critical importance in the fight against this debilitating disease.
``The entire area around Ardboe and East Tyrone is now in very grave danger from Foot and Mouth disease. Everyone has a responsibility and a duty to assist in every way possible, the Department of Agriculture Officials who are working tirelessly to eradicate this disease.
``Confirmation of the latest case of Foot and Mouth in North Antrim and two further 'Hot suspect' cases in Ardboe represent an increasing threat to the farming community, entire agricultural industry and economic fabric on the island of Ireland. No effort should be spared by all of us in continuing our support for the farming community and to take in the utmost seriousness the advice and instructions issued by the Departments of Agriculture in Belfast and Dublin.''