By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — At least six loyalist bands defied a Parades Commission ruling and played sectarian tunes as they passed a Catholic chapel in Portadown during Saturday’s first protest march in support of the Orange stand at Drumcree of 1999.
The Parades Commission had reminded the Orange Order that "irreverent behavior" must be avoided when passing sensitive areas and churches and that "conduct, words or music likely to cause offense or sectarian antagonism are prohibited."
At a march on Dec. 19, "The Sash" was repeatedly and deliberately struck up as bandsmen approached St. John the Baptist Catholic chapel. A Parades Commission statement noted this as well as the presence of a drum reading: "South Antrim UVF."
Despite their pleas to the Orange Order to be silent as they passed the same chapel on Jan. 2, it was the same story all over again. Four bands on the outward parade played "The Sash."
The remainder mostly played "Derry’s Walls" with the occasional rendition of "The Billy Boys," whose chorus is: "We’re up to our neck in Fenian blood, Surrender or you die, We are the Billy, Billy boys."
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The British Army maintained a heavy presence in Portadown, with members of the Parachute Regiment on duty in armored tank-like vehicles known as Saxons which weigh five tons each. Temporary 12-foot-high screens were erected beside the Catholic chapel.
Breandan Mac Cionnaith of the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition said people now wanted to know what action the Parades Commission was going to take. They are also angry that the gates of the local cemetery were locked, preventing people visiting their loved ones’ graves.
One man said he had been forced to visit his mother’s grave in the dark because the cemetery was locked for most of the day of an Orange parade. How could it be right, he asked, for loyalists to be facilitated by the RUC in insisting on marching to their church, when he was blocked?
At a rally in Portadown town center, the Rev. Willie McCrea, an MP in Ian Paisley’s DUP, claimed in typical fiery fashion that the Garvaghy Road residents, Sinn Fein, and the British governments had set out to "destroy" Protestant culture, religion and civil liberties.
The existence of the Parades Commission itself is being challenged by the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, who says London should disband it and allow the Orange Order to march down the Garvaghy Road.
Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Fein accused Trimble of breaching his oath of office by, as he put it, encouraging the Order to "intimidate nationalist residents." McLaughlin said "David Trimble has displayed once more that he is above all else an Orangeman."
The Alliance Party also criticized Trimble’s call, saying that now he was First Minister (Designate) he had a duty to represent all the people and not just the community from whence he comes.
The Orange Order says it will not necessarily participate in new proximity talks, if they are renewed under the chairmanship of the British prime minister’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell.
Harold Gracey, the District Master of the Order in Portadown, left his one-man protest on the hill at Drumcree this week after his elderly mother died in a fall.
Meanwhile, Orange protesters have returned to the days of the "Ribbonmen" by tying more than 180 orange ribbons to lamp posts near the home of Billy Martin, a member of the Parades Commission, at Greyabbey, Co. Down.