By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Against all expectations, this year’s Orange Twelfth parades passed off without serious injury or damage to property, although community tensions in places such as Portadown, Dunloy, Bellaghy and parts of Belfast remain high.
In a protest at the barring of a smaller parade, the largest Orange rally of the year, held on Sunday, voluntarily rerouted itself to the Ormeau Park in south Belfast, with up to 40,000 marchers parading to one of the city’s largest open spaces, within 200 yards of the nationalist Lower Ormeau district.
Between the park and the Ormeau area, however, were two lines of park railings, a road, rows of barbed wire placed there by British troops, RUC reinforcements and the River Lagan.
The Orange Order changed its traditional route from the field at Edenderry, on the southern outskirts of Belfast, to the Ormeau Park in protest at the barring of one lodge, Ballynafeigh, from the Lower Ormeau Road.
The Parades Commission originally barred the new route, but after a third route was submitted — and representations from the RUC and a delegation of Orangemen who are also Belfast City councilors (including the Ulster Unionist lord mayor, Bob Stoker) — the commission did a U-turn.
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This caused anger and dismay in the nationalist community, who saw it as giving in to undue unionist/RUC pressure — but the march went ahead anyway, passing close to the Lower Ormeau Road and necessitating a massive security operation to block off roads and two bridges into the area.
In an unusually strongly worded statement, the SDLP said it was disgusted at the Parades Commission’s decision to reverse its earlier ruling which had banned the Orangemen from diverting from their traditional route.
A six-member delegation met the RUC chief constable on Saturday, emphasizing that the massive policing operation that required must concentrate on the Orangemen, not on nationalist residents.
The group demanded that no curfew be imposed on nationalists by the RUC, and said it was angered at the RUC chief constable’s own input into the Parades Commission ruling, which — they said — had damaged his own credibility.
SDLP Assemblyman Alex Attwood said that any security measures should be directed at the Orangemen and not at the Lower Ormeau residents. The decision by the Parades Commission was criticized by the SDLP as "disgusting" and damaging to the credibility of the RUC.
Commission rulings ignored
Members of the Ballynafeigh Orange Lodge mounted an hour-long protest at a security barricades erected across Ormeau Bridge. This broke Parades Commission rules, which stipulated that the march disperse when it reached the bridge.
A second rule was broken by the marchers when they played "The Sash" at least three times at the bridge. The rules say that when passing close to community interfaces, no party or sectarian tunes should be played.
Noel Ligget, district master, said he was disappointed that a five-minute parade could not have been accommodated by the residents. A letter of protest was then handed in to RUC Inspector Stephen Grange.
After prayers at the bridge, the Rev. William Hoey (who once, famously, described Cardinal Cahal Daly as "that red-hatted weasel in Armagh") condemned the Parades Commission.
Throughout the night soldiers had put up razor wire along the park’s perimeter and at about 5:30 a.m., a military convoy of about 20 army trucks and diggers moved onto the Ormeau embankment.
There were two themes to this year’s Twelfth: condemnation of the Parades Commission and the political crisis over decommissioning and devolution. At all 18 major demonstrations, there were calls for the scrapping of the Parades Commission, with universal condemnation for its chairman, Alistair Graham.
He made a brief appearance at the Ormeau Park rally in Belfast, but didn’t stay long. From the platform, Nigel Dodds of the DUP accused the commission of trying to subjugate the British heritage and Protestant way of life.
Addressing thousands of supporters in Portadown, John McCrea, the assistant grand master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, described the commission as a "government-created monster."
Earlier Graham denied he had yielded to political pressure or the threat of loyalist violence in reversing the decision to ban the march and rally. He said the Orange Order had "gone to some length," including an altered route, to address concerns.
Gerard Rice, the spokesman for the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community, repeated the residents’ concerns about the potential for loyalist violence and said he believed the Parades Commission was intimided by the Orange Order.
"The Parades Commission has given the go-ahead to this parade on the basis of assurances it has received from Unionist politicians and the Orange Order," Rice said. "Very many Ormeau Road residents are unconvinced by these assurances.
"We are calling upon unionist politicians and the Orange Order leadership to deliver on the commitment that they have made and to actively live up to their responsibilities to ensure that the day passes off peacefully."
Rice also said the willingness of the Orange Order to change the route of its demonstration had "totally demolished" their arguments that traditional marching routes were sacrosanct and could not be changed.
Meanwhile, two Catholic churches in County Antrim were targeted by arsonists on Sunday. In the first incident in Derriaghy, flammable liquid was set alight at the front door of St Patrick’s Church. The door and entrance hall sustained minor scorch damage.
At around 3:30 a.m., two wooden pallets were placed against the doors of a chapel in Chapel Hill, Lisburn and set alight. The blaze caused minor scorch damage to the doors and a stained glass window was also broken.
In County Derry, violence followed an Orange bonfire as loyalists rioted on the Strabane to Derry road at Newbuildings. Similar incidents were reported at other bonfire locations.
On Thursday night, loyalists attacked nationalist houses in the Markets area of Belfast. The attack took place in the early hours of the morning and resulted in a number of houses being damaged.
And Sinn Fein has hit out at a pipe bomb attack in North Antrim. The device was found outside the home of a party worker in Ballycastle. Sinn Fein councilor James McCarry, whose own house and car have been attacked on several occasions in the recent past, said the political vacuum was being filled by loyalist violence.
In Portadown, loyalists tried to breach the British Army fortifications protecting the Garvaghy Road from incursions on Monday night. Police and soldiers fought running battles with Orange supporters for over four hours and at one point the barbed wire barricade was breached.
The violence began when loyalists cut a six-foot gap in the barbed wire fencing put up last night around the cemetery adjoining St. John’s Catholic church at the top of the Garvaghy Road. Hundreds of loyalists rioted on the Dungannon Road nearby and a Lambeg drum beat loudly keeping people awake.
Also, police in Belfast have determined that the device destroyed in a controlled explosion outside an RUC headquarters in the city last Tuesday was not a 300-pound car bomb, as originally thought. Though police say a warning was called in using a known republican codeword, they are saying now that the bomb was a hoax.