Category: Archive

All talk, butstill no action

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

PORTADOWN, Co. Armagh — With the Northern Ireland peace process grounded — for now — on the seemingly immovable rock of decommissioning, attention is being focused ever more sharply on what could become the flashpoint for pent-up frustrations: the Orangemen’s efforts to again march this July along the Garvaghy Road.

Meanwhie, on Tuesday, in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was to hold separate talks with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Ulster Unionist Party Leader David Trimble in an effort to get the sides to compromise on decommissioning.

On Monday, Trimble held his second meetings in a week with Breandan Mac Cionnaith, spokesman for the Garvaghy Road Residents Association, with more meetings planned in an attempt to avert another Drumcree crisis in July. representatives of the SDLP, Sinn Fein, and the Ulster Unionists. Representatives of the SDLP, Sinn Fein, and the Ulster Unionists were also involved in the discussions.

Sources said that both governments are “fearful” about the consequences of failing to resolve the decommissioning issue and establish the North’s new power-sharing executive before the European Parliament election campaign gets into full swing.

Although Sinn FTin has nominated its members — Martin McGuinness and Barbara de Br_in — to serve in the new executive, unionists oppose their participation until decommissioning starts.

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However, Sinn Fein seems to have no intention of actually getting IRA weapons decommissioned. Instead, it hopes that Blair might be able to persuade Trimble to soften his stance on the issue.

Also looming in the distance is the North’s volatile summer marching season, and in particular.

The annual Orange march to and from Drumcree church is due to take place again in less than two months, with the row over last year’s rerouted parade still unresolved.

Hardliners within the Orange Order are planning daily parades in June to stretch the RUC’s public order capacity and turn up the heat in the run-up to the July parade.

Despite seemingly optimistic comments by some participants at Monday’s meeting, Mac Cionnaith said there were no concrete proposals on the table. “What we are doing is exploring the issues that need to be dealt with,” he said.

Twelve months ago, Trimble was telling Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, to “call off his dogs on the Garvaghy Road.” Now he is sitting and talking to representatives of the same people.

The Orange Order’s grand master in County Armagh, the anti-Good Friday peace agreement Assemblyman Denis Watson, boycotted the talks, as did the mayor of Craigavon, DUP Councilor Mervyn Carrick. Other unionist councilors, who are also Orangemen, however, attended.

Trimble was widely praised for taking the initiative, although he was abused and heckled as he arrived for the first meeting with Mac Cionnaith in Craigavon, with a small group of protesters shouting “Fenian lover” and “scum” at him.

They also shouted, “Where’s Rosemary now?” at Mac Cionnaith as he arrived. (Murdered lawyer Rosemary Nelson was the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition legal advisor.)

Eggs and rocks were hurled at Brfd Rodgers of the SDLP and her car windshield was cracked as she left the meeting, but inside the atmosphere was “constructive, businesslike and positive” according to participants.

Last week, Trimble wrote to all elected representatives in the Portadown area, Assembly members and councilors, inviting them to a meeting in Craigavon, Co. Armagh, to discuss the issue.

The invitations were welcomed by the SDLP and Sinn Fein, along with representatives of nationalists living on the Garvaghy Road, but were spurned by the Orange Order and some unionists.

Trimble’s move came the day after hundreds of Portadown Orangemen rallied at Drumcree to mark 300 days of protest at having been refused permission by the Parades Commission to march down the nationalist Garvaghy Road last July.

The Parades Commission chairman, Alistair Graham, has warned that time is running out to find a resolution that would avert another crisis at Drumcree this year.

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