Category: Archive

Drumcree banned

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

PORTADOWN, Co. Armagh — The Orange Order has been banned from marching down the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road this Sunday for the second straight year, prompting fears of a loyalist backlash.

A press conference on Monday to announce the decision by the Northern Ireland Parades Commission was disrupted by a bomb scare. Alistair Graham, the commission chairman, was forced to read his decision in a hotel parking lot as journalists and hotel guests mingled in the confusion.

Graham said that if the Orange Order had taken a more flexible approach as part of a genuine and sustained attempt to engage with the nationalist community, there might have been a different outcome.

He also urged the Portadown Orange Order to lift its protest activity and to continue its engagement with the Garvaghy Road residents. He stressed that no group had a right of veto over parades.

Talks between the Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, and the residents broke up without agreement after two days of efforts to reach accommodation.

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In Portadown, the rector of Drumcree Parish Church, the Rev. John Pickering, has defied his church Synod and said Orangemen were welcome to attend next Sunday’s service, despite a request to withdraw the invitation.

The request came after claims that Orangemen had refused to commit themselves to abiding by the law and pledging to preserve the sanctity of the church and adjoining fields.

The Church of Ireland archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Robin Eames, has appealed to both sides in the dispute to seek an agreement. He said he wanted to see a solution that was fair and honorable to both sides and that avoided widespread unrest and disorder.

More British troops have been drafted into Portadown and are braced for violence at Drumcree and during the marching season. Members of the Royal Dragoon Guards, the King’s Regiment, the Cheshire Regiment and the Royal Artillery are on duty in the area. Approximately 17,000 British troops have been brought into the North, the highest figure since before the 1994 cease-fire was signed.

Tensions have been heightened by a so-called “Long March” for Protestant civil rights, which began in Derry on Thursday and is making its way to Portadown through seven towns en route. Claiming to represent “Real Victims,” the organizers are holding nightly rallies along their way.

They are due to pass through Lurgan on the night before the annual Drumcree march and will pass by the office of murdered solicitor, Rosemary Nelson, in the town — which could prove a flashpoint.

A spokesman for the organizers said those opposing the march were “infidel republicans” with “Satanic aims.” But people who have criticized the march include the SDLP and even some members of the Protestant churches who say it is divisive and provocative.

Sinn Fein also criticized the statement, saying such fundamentalist and supremacist language exposed the reality that the march had nothing to do with civil rights or equality.

The organizers, a group of unionists and loyalists mostly opposed to the Good Friday agreement, say they have been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received. Cases of ethnic cleansing of Protestants, torture and other human rights abuses by republicans on a massive scale have been revealed by their researchers, they say. Sinn Fein said the statement also made it clear there would be nightly rallies along the route which would increase sectarian tensions in the lead up to Drumcree.

Councilors in the Craigavon area near Portadown are calling for an inquiry after three recent suicides in the area. Some are concerned the three young men may have taken their own lives partly due to increased tension in the area.

Both unionists and nationalists say tensions and divisions in the area are affecting family life throughout the borough and although there is no proof this was responsible for the suicides, they are worried enough to seek outside help.

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