By Anne Cadwallader
PORTADOWN, Co. Armagh — Tension continues to run high here with loyalist protests every Saturday and Sunday and Catholics fearful of entering the town center after dark to shop or socialize.
The Orange Order has pledged to escalate the protests, with the latest plan being a march by 1,600 loyalist women past St. John’s chapel near the Garvaghy Road to coincide with Saturday evening Mass.
Northern Ireland’s Parades Commission has banned the women’s parade from the Garvaghy Road itself, but it will be allowed to pass the main Catholic chapel.
The women are members of the newly formed Ulster Coalition for Justice. The commission ruled they cannot go farther than the church at Drumcree, where they are to be addressed by the grand master of the Order in Portadown, Harold Gracey.
Meanwhile, 150 Church of Ireland clergy, including some of its most senior members, have urged the rector of Drumcree church to find a way around the continuing stand-off.
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A row has also broken out between the DUP mayor and two nationalist councilors, who have called on him to resign after he refused to sign a petition against ongoing intimidation.
Mervyn Carrick, the mayor, would not sign the petition, which was being circulated by nationalist and unionist councilors deploring recent sectarian violence.
Three Catholic businesses have been firebombed and regular loyalist protests are disrupting commercial life.
Carrick said that half of the reports of such violence were "not to be believed" and the other half were "not true." He also accused Catholic shopowners — and the RUC — of using "provocative language."
Councilors Breandan MacCionnaith and Joe Duffy said Carrick’s remarks were highly irresponsible and questioned his ability to hold the office of mayor.
Meanwhile, a Sinn Fein councilor in Armagh is to take legal action after his home was raided by the RUC at the weekend. Sean McGirr claims he was struck on the head in Armagh city by a baton and was treated in Craigavon Hospital.
About four hours later, the officer responsible and others came to his home, handcuffed him in front of his three children, and arrested him. He and his 17-year-old daughter have been charged with assaulting the RUC, and are counter-charging the police officers involved.
Also, the DUP leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, has claimed the British government is planning to announce the disarming of sections of the Royal Irish Regiment.
It was revealed this week that 160 members of the RIR (formerly the UDR) had handed in their personal protection weapons voluntarily and a further 20 weapons had been withdrawn after a "routine" review.
Also last week, the family of a south Armagh man shot dead by the Royal Marines at the end of 1990 has been awarded undisclosed damages.
Fergal Caraher was 19 and the father of one child when he was shot and killed in disputed circumstances. He and his brother, Michael were both shot at a checkpoint in the village of Cullyhanna in December 1990.
The soldiers said the men had driven through a checkpoint, but eyewitnesses at the scene who said no warning had been given before the soldiers opened fire denied this.
The two soldiers were acquitted on murder charges. A public tribunal was held that recommended a full public inquiry, but the British government turned this down.