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Portadown march banned

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — The Parades Commission has banned a planned July 2 Orange march from the nationalist Garvaghy Road area of Portadown. The decision came after the Order breached four conditions of a Commission ruling on the peace line in West Belfast last Saturday.

During that march, the RUC batoned Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly on the head as he tried to calm protesting nationalists. Kelly, who was bleeding as he continued to calm people down, was later treated in hospital.

He was given three stitches to a wound in the back of his head caused by the batoning. Kelly is making an official compliant and suing for damages. Earlier this year, he successfully sued the RUC for damages after being assaulted at an Orange parade four years ago.

The march was watched by Tom Constantine, former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Constantine has been appointed oversight commissioner to help implement the Patten Report on a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland.

Saturday’s Orange Order march included a color party of five men with UDA banners. It marched down a road in contravention of its route plan. Supporters played loud Orange music on a bank of loudspeakers and marchers halted on the route — all against the Commission’s ruling.

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The Order has yet to comment on the Portadown rerouting, but the Garvaghy Road residents group has welcomed the ruling. In its latest ruling, the Parades Commission noted that this Sunday’s march is intended to be a large one, with an estimated 3,500 people and three bands.

It also noted the intended route was to pass sensitive interface areas, that it comes a week before the annual Drumcree parade and is accompanied by requests to march in the days after that parade.

The Commission said the request this Sunday “risks being interpreted as a deliberate attempt to raise tension” and in the absence of agreement it could not see how it could be allowed without damaging community relations.

Last Saturday’s march came after four days and nights of tension along the main West Belfast peace line. As it proceeded through the steel doors in the peace line, specially opened for the march, there were loud cheers from loyalists.

On the nationalist side of the barrier, nationalists watched in disgust as the parade passed. One woman, whose 13-year-old son was shot dead by British soldiers in the 1970s, wept and other residents slammed their doors shut against the marchers to show their disgust.

A crowd of several hundred nationalists were kept well back by rows of armed RUC men in full riot gear. It was while he was trying to keep this crowd calm that Kelly was batoned.

“I think that the guy knew I was an elected representative. In my opinion, he did it to annoy the crowd,” Kelly said. Eyewitnesses described how the RUC man leaned over colleagues to get a good swing at Kelly’s head.

The SDLP assemblyman for West Belfast, Alex Attwood, criticized the Orange Order and the organizers of the counter-demonstration. He said it did not steward the protest as well as it had in 1999 and was therefore partially responsible for the low-level violence and stone throwing.

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