By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — An estimated 1,000 Orangemen, far fewer than authorities had expected, paraded once again through the streets of Portadown Saturday to demand their right to march down the Garvaghy Road. Four police officers were slightly injured in a fracas and two men were arrested.
It was the latest in an almost continual round of protests and pickets carried out by hard-line loyalists who support the stand-off at Drumcree last July, when police prevented Orange Order marchers from parading down nationalist Garvaghy Road. Marchers signed a petition and pledged to continue protesting despite pleas from the Alliance Party, local residents and shopkeepers for them to call a halt.
Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition spokesman Breandan MacCionnaith has asked the Orange Order to desist from the protests and engage in dialogue with him, but the Orangemen refuse to do so because of his record of IRA activity.
Orange Order Grand Master Tommy Saulters said it would be easier for progress to be made if MacCionnaith was "taken out" of the coalition. This was taken to mean he should not be a spokesman for the group.
MacCionnaith said personality was not the issue and asked Saulters to face up to the reality that the 20,000 supporters the organizers had hoped would turn up had not. A second rally in the town took place Sunday with the MP for south Belfast, the Rev. Martin Smyth, addressing a rally.
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Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein accused Smyth of "encouraging sectarian conflict" by his presence. "It is nothing short of disgraceful that a senior member of the Ulster Unionist Party should speak at an Orange parade," McGuinness said.
"The nationalist people of the Garvaghy Road have been on the receiving end of a vicious sectarian campaign night and day for the past three months. The presence of Mr. Smyth is a green light for these protests to continue.
"This party cannot have it both ways: on the one hand being involved in a peace process and on the other encouraging such sectarian behavior."