By Patrick Markey
BELFAST — Northern Ireland’s Parades Commission Monday banned the Protestant fraternal Orange Order from marching down the predominantly Catholic area in Belfast’s Lower Ormeau Road, and refused for the second time in two weeks to allow the Portadown Orange Order to parade through the nationalist Garvaghy Road area.
Loyalist protesters clashed with police at Drumcree in Portadown on Monday night hours after the Commission announced its decision. Police were attacked with fireworks, stones and slingshots by about 150 loyalists who had tried to cut through the barbed wire fortifications blocking the entrance to the Catholic St. John’s Church on Garvaghy Road. Six policemen were injured.
The Garvaghy and Lower Ormeau Road parades are considered the more contentious Orange marches during the summer season and have often become flashpoints for violence in the last five years.
The decision to ban the Orangemen from marching through Portadown’s Catholic area ended speculation that the Parades Commission would allow the march to go ahead.
David Jones, spokesman for the Portadown Lodge had said the order was in communication with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the parade. He had suggested that the Orangemen would be able to march before July 12. The order’s demonstration on July 4 went ahead with little disturbance.
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The commission statement said that there was a need for face-to-face discussions between the two communities before the Orange Order would be allowed to march down the Garvaghy Road.
Although there have been proximity talks between the residents and the Portadown lodge, the two sides have not talked face to face since the Orangemen were first banned in 1995.
In its Ormeau Road decision, the commission said in a statement that there is a need for both communities to find common ground: "At this time this time, the Commission does not have any evidence to suggest that there has been sufficient attempts to address legitimate concerns."
On the Ormeau Road in South Belfast there was a sense of relief that the July 12 parade had been rerouted.
"There’s absolute relief in the community. People now believe that there is no way the Orange Order can avoid negotiation," Gerard Rice, spokesman for the Lower Ormeau Residents Coalition, said.