Category: Archive

Talks collapse as Drumcree nears

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

PORTADOWN, Co. Armagh — Talks aimed at averting another crisis at Drumcree broke up in acrimony on last Thursday after a day-long session at Stormont. Both sides are accusing the other of refusing to compromise, with the intended Orange Order parade down the mainly Catholic Gavaghy Road less than two weeks away.

Frank Blair, the British mediator who had been chairing the talks, is preparing a report for Prime Minister Tony Blair.

After the talks broke down, the executive officer of the Orange Order, George Patton, accused the Drumcree residents group of intransigence and said its members had no interest in respecting Protestant and unionist rights.

Breandan Mac Cionnaith, leader and spokesman for the residents, said the Order had first rejected a draft negotiating paper presented by the talks chairman, then sought his dismissal and, finally, publicly criticized him.

He said the residents had been told of 25 more marches planned by the Orangemen between June 28 and July 24 in Portadown and elsewhere and accused them of a strategy to foment confusion and fear.

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"Our position is that we said to Blair on June 4 and 5, and made it clear to the prime minister, that we were prepared to accept the documents tabled by the mediator as a basis for discussion on a without prejudice," Mac Cionnaith said. "The Orange Order rejected that document outright on the morning of June 4. So let’s call a spade a spade and say whose position is moving and whose position is not. The Orange Order virtually tore up that document."

Meanwhile, a march for Protestant civil rights is set to begin this Thursday in Derry, taking in seven towns on its way to Portadown, where its arrival is timed to coincide with the annual Orange Parade at Drumcree.

A former moderator of the Presbyterian church, Dr. John Dunlop, along with the SDLP’s Brid Rodgers, Sinn Fein and nationalist residents’ groups have appealed to the organizers to cancel the march, which they say can only increase tension in the run up to the July 4th parade in Drumcree.

The organizers of the so-called "Long March," who include a number of mainly anti Agreement unionists, and a group called Real Victims, who comprise solely victims of IRA violence, say the march is just the first stage in a fightback for Protestant rights.

They accused the British government and nationalists of refusing to recognize the real victims of violence and are demanding an end to "violations of unionist culture and heritage."

The organizers say they want to highlight the ethnic cleansing of Protestants and the denial of their religious and civil rights to march and express their identity.

They claim the legacy of Martin Luther King and claim nationalists are guilty of cultural apartheid for refusing to tolerate Orange marches in predominantly Catholic areas, such as the Lower Ormeau Road and the Garvaghy Road.

Meanwhile, the organizers of the Drumcree "siege" have admitted their goal is to stretch the resources of the RUC and British Army. With loyalists preparing for a new offensive and record numbers of parades being held in Portadown, there are fears that the stage is being set for a re-run of the mayhem wrought in 1996, when the British government caved into prolonged disturbances and violence.

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