By Anne Cadwallader
PORTADOWN, Co. Armagh — What police said was the most vicious loyalist rioting seen for years at Drumcree bridge left 24 police officers injured on Sunday and two civilians wounded by plastic bullets.
The Orange Order is being urged to conduct a vigorous internal reassessment of its tactics after dozens of members were seen hurling rocks, logs, bottles and verbal abuse at police officers blocking their path to the nationalist Garvaghy Road.
There are renewed fears of violence at this Friday’s main Twelfth parades in Belfast after the violence in Portadown. The Parades Commission has given permission for a number of contentious marches on the 12th to take place close to or through nationalist areas.
The contentious Orange parade that passes through the main Falls/Shankill peaceline will be able to march about a mile along a mainly nationalist stretch of the Springfield Road in West Belfast.
The feeder parade from North Belfast to the main mustering point at Clifton Street Orange Hall is to be allowed to pass beside the shops at Ardoyne where serious nationalist rioting broke out last year that lasted for two days. The decision was condemned by Sinn Fein but welcome by the DUP.
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But in South Belfast, the Ballynafeigh Orange lodge is not to be allowed to march along the Lower Ormeau Road, in line with previous decisions.
The Orange Order had given guarantees of good behavior to police in Portadown in the days leading up to the riot, and police had scaled down their security operation in return, to give what they said was “respect” and “dignity” to the Order.
The barricade on the bridge was 6 feet high and weighed three tons, with its metal main part kept in place by concrete blocks, but it could not withstand the pressure of the protesters, who demolished it within half an hour.
The trouble began as senior Orange Order officials made a formal protest at the security barrier over being banned from parading down the Garvaghy Road. They handed over a letter of complaint and loyalists then started tearing down the barrier and throwing missiles.
Orangemen in full regalia were involved in the frontline clashes, with some taking their sashes off before joining in the trouble after a loyalist mob broke the gates of the barrier.
Black umbrellas, traditionally carried by Orangemen on their parades, could be seen crashing down on the helmets of officers. Protesters burned an Irish tricolor.
Huge rocks were dredged up from the river under the bridge and hurled at police, while every available missile was thrown at officers keeping the space open for the main barricade.
Three people were arrested for rioting and a number of other arrests are expected once police have examined video footage of events.
In the Garvaghy Road Catholic enclave, all was peaceful as nationalist residents watched events on TV.
The police commander in control of security at Drumcree, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen White, said he was disappointed at the Orangemen’s violence. David Burrows, the deputy district master of Portadown district Orange lodge, compared Catholics who objected to loyalist parades to Nazis. He said they were “paranoid fascists” who were treating Protestants like “the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto.”
Breandan Mac Cionnaith, the spokesman for the local residents, said the violence showed the inability of the Order to control its members.