Loyalist paramilitaries and the Orange Order
BY LAURA FRIEL
West Belfast residents have called for an Orange Order march scheduled for the Twelfth to be rerouted away from nationalist homes after loyalist paramilitaries, dressed in military style clothing and carrying UDA and UFF flags, were filmed accompanying Orangemen during a controversial march along the Springfield Road.
Amateur video footage captured a number of sinister figures, their identities obscured by woollen hats and dark glasses, wearing green combat uniforms, taking part in what appeared to be a colour party representing UDA death squads. One of the figures, carrying a military baton, appeared to be issuing orders.
The Orangemen appeared to experience no difficulty in marching alongside members of an organisation which, only a few days earlier, was threatening to kill Catholics
In front and behind the paramilitaries, members of the Orange Order marched in single line. Amongst the bands accompanying the marchers were at least two loyalist paramilitary bands, the Young Citizens Volunteers, believed to be the youth wing of the UDA, and a UVF band named after loyalist Brian Robinson, shot dead by the SAS.
At no time were members of the UDA colour party challenged by the Orange Order's marshals. Indeed, they appeared to be totally integrated into the main body of the parade. The Orangemen appeared to experience no difficulty in marching alongside members of an organisation which, only a few days earlier, was threatening to kill Catholics.
At the side of the road, an RUC officer watched with a clear view of the passing UDA colour party. The paramilitary presence was a clear breach of the terms of the Parades Commission's ruling but no attempt was made by the RUC to enforce the ruling.
other breach was orchestrated by the Orange Order. Tension mounted when sectarian tunes were played on a speaker system in breach of the Parades Commission's ruling that music could not be played near nationalist homes on the Springfield Road.
Nationalist residents were attacked after RUC officers in full riot gear were drafted into the area to facilitate the Orange march. Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly was struck across the back of the head by a baton-wielding RUC officer. Kelly had momentarily turned his back to the line of RUC officers confronting resident protesters when he was hit.
Film footage which showed the blood pouring down the Sinn Féin member's head and neck as he tried to restore calm was later cut from transmission. During the same incident, Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Ferguson was hit in the face with a riot shield and fellow Lisburn councillor Paul Butler was injured when he was hit on his arm with a baton.
During the RUC operation, residents' spokesperson Francis McAuley was injured, and a number of other residents were struck by batons. John McGiven of the Springfield Residents' Action Group described local residents as ``very dignified in the face of crazy provocation by loyalists and the RUC''.
On Clifton Park Avenue, the burnt out remains of what were once the homes of Catholic families, stand as a stark reminder of the sectarian ethos of the Orange marching season. Catholics living on this section of the loyalist ``Tour of the North' route were forced to flee after their homes were attacked by sectarian mobs protesting in support of Drumcree in 1996. Many of the families rendered homeless remain on the housing waiting list four years later.
Last Saturday's Orange march along the Springfield Road took place against a backdrop of loyalist intimidation. Nationalist residents who attended a local cross community meeting a few days before the march was set to take place were verbally abused and threatened by loyalist paramilitaries, who hijacked the meeting. One nationalist resident was called a ``fenian bastard'' and was told if she opposed the playing of loyalist songs, ``her head would be fucking blown off''.
On the Tuesday prior to the march, the UDA staged a press conference. Three armed and masked men dressed in paramilitary garb announced that the UDA was to renew its campaign of sectarian violence against Catholics who they claimed were involved in ``systematic ethnic cleansing'' of Protestants.
Within hours, the UDA's claim was totally refuted by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which pointed out that all the families who had been intimidated out of their homes in the last month were Catholics. Publicly exposed, the UDA withdrew its threat.
Significantly, the UDA press conference had been held within hours of the screening of a television documentary showing film footage of queues of people arriving on foot and by car to buy drugs from a house in Boundary Street in the Lower Shankill area. This is the same area where the UDA's Johnny Adair recently ordered the painting of twelve new loyalist wall murals.
The spurious claim of ``ethnic cleansing'' provided the UDA with a timely smokescreen to this exposé of the core of their influence - a classic scenario in which loyalist drug barons could pose as defenders of their community by evoking the myth of a Catholic threat.
Meanwhile, during an Orange parade in the County Derry village of Bellaghy, rules by the Parades Commission were again flouted by the Order. Orange marchers ignored restrictions on playing sectarian songs during a section of the parade. In an act of further provocation, the Orange marchers paraded four times along the same route, while the RUC made no attempt to enforce the law.
In the nationalist village of Keady, County Armagh, loyalist bands played until midnight during a `competition' last Friday. Sinn Féin Councillor Brian Cunningham described local residents as ``understandably furious that this sectarian display was allowed to continue until after midnight.
``The Loyal Orders speak about residents' lack of respect and tolerance, but here was a parade which showed nothing but contempt for local people,'' said Brian.