By Anne Cadwallader
LONDON — On Monday, five people walked briskly across Whitehall in the heart of London, dwarfed by the Cenotaph war memorial, and made their way, watched by police officers, toward the official residence of the British prime minister.
They believed the man they were going to meet, Tony Blair, who has often said the welfare and future of the children of Northern Ireland is his inspiration, could stop the seven months of suffering and intimidation they have endured.
The five, who had left Portadown before dawn that morning, were carrying copies of a 16-page dossier outlining more than 140 loyalist marches and demonstrations, many apparently illegal, and two videotapes of the same events, to try and break through the media blackout on events on the Garvaghy Road.
Eleven families have been hounded from their homes on the Garvaghy Road in the last seven months. Traumatized children are seeing psychologists and an entire community is living under siege. Yet little of this has been covered in either the Irish or British media.
An hour later, the Garvaghy Road delegation reemerged into the open air and were surrounded by reporters who wanted to know how it had gone. "Fair, frank and friendly," said Breandan Mac Cionnaith.
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The women in the delegation had spoken of their children’s fear. One had handed over a poem and letter her daughter had written to the British prime minister.
Once outside again, they were informed by the press that the Orange Order has turned down Blair’s invitation to proximity talks on resolving the continuing impasse over the Drumcree protest. So the nightmare continues for the Catholics of Portadown.
The Orange Order said in its statement rejecting the invitation to talks that they felt the discussions should be "more structured" and that "professional" help should be called in. Mac Cionnaith said he was "amazed" at the statement.
"Here we have the British prime minister, his chief of staff, the Northern secretary and the minister for security all involved in trying to sort this matter out," he said. "The Orange Order won’t talk to us, the residents, and now say they want professional help."
Denis Watson, the grand master of the Orange Order in County Armagh, said the last round was a "waste of time" and "achieved nothing." He has accused the residents of being prepared to allow a march, if they were paid enough — but this has been denied by the residents.
Meanwhile, loyalists have gathered at Drumcree nearly every night. On Wednesday, eyewitnesses said there was a RUC baton charge after they spilled over into a field close to St. John’s Catholic chapel.
One of the two men who appeared in court on Thursday in connection with disturbances on Wednesday night was a British soldier. The second is a relative of an Omagh bombing victim. The men, both from County Tyrone, appeared at Craigavon District court and were remanded on bail.
The soldier, Thomas Earnest Marshall, from Omagh, is charged with assaulting a police officer. Andrew Orr Gibson, from Beragh, is brother of Esther Gibson, 36, one of 29 people killed in the Aug. 15 bombing. He is also nephew of Oliver Gibson, a DUP assemblyman in County Tyrone. In court he was said to be the ringleader of the loyalists at Drumcree who attacked the RUC.