By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST – Ninety Catholic families were intimidated or burned out of their homes during the week, hundreds of RUC men were injured, and millions of pounds damage caused to tourism and the economy as Northern Ireland continues to reel from the Drumcree crisis.
Hundreds of Orangemen, meanwhile, remain encamped near Drumcree church in Portadown, protesting the Parades Commission decision to ban their annual march, which was to have been held almost two weeks ago.
As the Orangemen protest is joined nightly by thousands of their brethren, a low level of ethnic cleansing has been going on against vulnerable Catholic families, particularly in the eastern parts of Counties Antrim and Down, including Carrickfergus, Antrim town, Larne, Coleraine in County Derry and parts of Belfast.
One Catholic woman was forced to leave her home of 27 years after it was attacked by firebombs twice within a week. Protestant families who sheltered the Catholic neighbors were also intimidated and forced from home.
The village of Dunloy in County Antrim was besieged for a night by two thousand Orangemen who subsequently issued a military-style statement that they had “taken up positions” and “held” the village to show what they were capable of.
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Local people armed with only hurley sticks were prepared to defend the area, but the Orangemen backed off when it became obvious villagers had been forewarned about their arrival.
Loyalists in both the UDA and UVF, the two main extreme Protestant paramilitary groups, were believed involved in widespread violence and intimidation during the week-long Drumcree siege. But they thrown themselves wholeheartedly behind the Orange protest, they would have brought Northern Ireland to a standstill, as they did in 1996, leading to a British government U-turn and forcing an Orange march down the Garvaghy Road.
It seems that although individuals were involved, the two main groups held back from outright participation in violence, for fear of losing their early prison release schemes.
The UDA is being blamed for gun attacks on members of the RUC in north and west Belfast, while the UVF was held responsible for a spate of blast bomb attacks at Drumcree and in Carrickfergus.
Every day of the week-long protest, hundreds of roads were blocked, with motorists advised to stay at home, cross-border trains canceled and no form of public transport in many areas after dark.
Neither group admitted breaking its cease-fire, with the Northern Ireland secretary, Mo Mowlam, threatening to postpone the prisoner-release schemes if they were proved to be involved.
The UDA, prompted by her warning, said any person found rioting would not be accepted onto its wings in the Maze jail, widely seen as an attempt to prevent its members being penalized for the violence.
The RUC-released film showing a gunman equipped with a long-barreled rifle firing at their lines under cover of darkness at Drumcree. The police also put on show catapults, lead weights, ball bearings and other missiles used against its members during the siege.
The UVF is the only group known to have pipe-bomb-making skills, and over 40 of these devices were hurled at the police and soldiers, night after night, in full view of international journalists and camera crews.
At no time, either day or night, was there any overt RUC or British Army presence at the Orange encampment. On Thursday, 20,000 Orangemen and supporters massed there from around County Antrim, the largest attendance of the week.
They crowded down at the 20-ft wide flooded trench, dug out by the British Army, yelling abuse and threats at police and soldiers. Shouts of “traitors,” “sell out to the IRA,” “cowards” and “you are no Ulstermen” are only the more repeatable.
On Thursday night, the sky was riven by huge blasts and at least four policemen were injured, one seriously. The following day more than 100 plastic bullets were fired to keep the Orangemen at bay.
Twenty people were taken to hospital with injuries, including a 21-year-old woman student who lost an eye. When hand-to-hand fighting broke out on the barricade blocking their path to Garvaghy Road, two arrests were made.
The Garvaghy Road resembled an armed camp, with long lines of massive British Army vehicles patrolling day and night and checkpoints at each end. Loyalists would sporadically mount roadblocks, preventing people getting to work or to shops.
More than 50 U.S. and other international observers worked around the clock, equipped with two-way radio contacts, monitoring loyalist and police/army activity. The accents of Boston, New York and New Jersey, in particular, could be heard throughout the week.
The observers were lodged with local families and proved invaluable to the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Committee in providing a buffer zone of neutral witness – and calling for assistance at time of high tension.
David McNarry, a leading Orangeman and member of its Grand Lodge “strategy committee,” caused uproar when he claimed on British radio that the Order “if it had a mind to” could “paralyze” Northern Ireland within hours.
A convoy of 100 cars bringing food, diapers and provisions to Garvaghy Road was ambushed by loyalists close to Portadown and two women and a man injured when a cudgel was thrown through a car window.
RUC men and women who were recognized at the main battlefield in Drumcree were also targeted. A policewoman whose car was set on fire was forced to leave the home she’d lived in for 30 years in Carrickfergus.
New loyalist paramilitary groups, hitherto unknown, sprung up. they are mostly believed to be flags of convenience for loyalists who didn’t want to risk the prisoner release scheme.
There were claims by the “Ulster Loyalist Action Force,” the “Ulster Protestant Association” and the “Protestant Freedom Fighters” who are believed to exist in name only. The “Orange Volunteer Force” was also resurrected and is believed to be behind arson attacks on Catholic churches.