Category: Archive

Dublin Report Drumcree still ground zero for loyalist resistance

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

Far be it from me to lay down bets on precisely what is likely to happen in the northern part of this island. Such predictions are just about as useless as hot tips for the Grand National steeplechase. The future in the North is always something of a lottery.

Still, there are straws in the wind. It would be a foolish person indeed who chooses to ignore them.

The marching season is now with us. Already, the Apprentice Boys have held one such display without any repercussions.

Beware. The Rev. Ian Paisley is beating the drum again, as usual, from his bellicose stance on the well-trodden sideline.

The loyalists have learned many important lessons during the last 30 years, but one in particular: It is possible to bring down almost any agreement, even one as tightly framed as Sunningdale, through concentrated mass opposition, no matter how determined any particular British government may seem in reinforcing it.

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Sunningdale’s power-sharing government died in May 1974 because of a concerted Ulster Workers Council strike, one that brought Northern Ireland almost to a standstill.

The British government of the time was simply not prepared to spare the troops necessary to break the strike. Neither has it been prepared at any stage during the last 30 years of conflict to take on the loyalist threat.

It could not fight a war on two fronts, one against the IRA and the various republican forces, the other against massed loyalist protests.

So Sunningdale died. Almost 20 more years of violence followed.

Now there is a chance of building a democratic, mutually agreed government in Northern Ireland, one endorsed by the vast majority of people on this island.

Understandably, Sinn Fein does not like the main precondition that has been laid down by loyalist leaders, noting that there is no stipulation in the Good Friday peace agreement for paramilitary arms decommissioning to begin before Sinn Fein is permitted to take part in the Northern assembly.

To appease his own right wing and to attempt to bring other dissident loyalists along with him, coupled with the undeniable fact that he desires to see decommissioning himself, the first minister, the UUP’s David Trimble, has gone along with the demand as a precursor to Sinn Fein’s entry.

Much to the dismay of republicans, Bertie Ahern, as leader of the Irish government, seems to back him up, perhaps to placate potentially dissident loyalists.

The republicans have kicked back. At a 1916 commemoration, a leading republican, Brian Keenan, made it clear that Sinn Fein was not going to accept decommissioning.

Internationally, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness continued to voice more gentle aspirations, pledging to do what they can to get a more acceptable response from the IRA.

So far, so good. Maybe, people hope that within the next 10 days, it can be sorted out in some fashion. Perhaps even that auspicious plan to hold a national Reconciliation Day will have some beneficial effect, coupled with the release of more republican prisoners.

But do they forget?

Paisley and his minions within the DUP are masters of the mass demonstration. The Ulster Worker’s strike cannot be repeated.

Delightfully for the dinosaurs of the loyalist camp, the marching season is here. The Drumcree Church protesters in Portadown, however small they may be in number, are still in place. The main ingredient for a mass protest, a central gathering point, is under their fingertips. Portadown, the center of the so-called murder triangle, remains the toughest loyalist bastion of the North.

Paisley is already beating the drum. With that sickening cynical smirk so typical of the man, he assured a Ulster Television interviewer recently that there was no way that they would ever participate in a government that included members of Sinn Fein.

Asked what he would do instead, he hissed: "Wait and see, wait and see."

Shortly afterward, Portadown loyalists threatened that they would switch the focus of the Garvaghy Road protest to St. John the Baptist Church, the Catholic church used by the residents in Portadown. They warned that they are going to mount pickets around the church in exactly the same way as they laid pickets around a similarly isolated church in Harryville for more than a year.

A loyalist source was quoted as saying that the plan had been under consideration for some time but was postponed because they wished to time it to have the "maximum effect."

Now they are beating the drum in earnest. As the marching season gets into full stride, another loyalist source was quoted as threatening the Garvaghy Road residents who wish to worship in the church, which stands at the top of the road.

"These people will face loyalist pickets on a regular basis as they attempt to attend Mass," the source said. "We will see how they react to that."

How do you think they are going to react?

The spokesman for the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, Breandan MacCionnaith, put it in perspective when he stated that the Drumcree issue is between the government and anti-agreement forces.

Portadown Orange District has organized no fewer than eight parades and rallies in support of the Drumcree protest throughout April.

The biggest is scheduled for the 24th, a Saturday. It could lead to a weekend’s massive rioting. It could also become the pivotal point for a huge loyalist show of resistance to the agreement.

Whatever the outcome, it will certainly be used as the location for a mass demonstration against Sinn Fein, against their participation in government and, basically, against the Good Friday agreement.

You can be quite sure that if it happens — and it will, more likely than not — Paisley will be there somewhere on the sidelines, as usual, proclaiming yet again that he is opposed to all violence.

One man’s violence is, of course, another man’s protest.

And what will the British government do if such events ensue, pressed as it is with the conduct of an increasingly frustrating NATO war in Yugoslavia?

The Irish people, north and south, had better brace themselves. The peace process is certainly not in the bag –far from it.

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