A controversial plan by the Orange Order to hold a parade in Portadown in County Armagh without the usual notification was apparently averted when the organisation was informed of pending arrests of the Republican Sinn Fein leadership, it has emerged.
RSF President Des Dalton and Vice President Fergal Moore were arrested in County Armagh on Wednesday night in connection with a republican demonstration on January 23 in support of internee Martin Corey on January 23. The demonstration, which took place in a republican area of Lurgan, was considered by the PSNI police to be ‘illegal’ as permission had not been requested for the event.
On Thursday, both men were charged with arranging and taking part in the parade, and were released on bail to appear again in September.
News of the impending arrests convinced the Orange Order to back away from a plan to organise ‘an illegal Drumcree’, according to reports.
In the late 1990s, the Drumcree parade (on the Sunday before the 12th of July) became synonymous with marching season conflict in the North. Unionist anger over the opposition of the nationalist Garvaghy Road residents to the Orange parade leading to widespread disorder for several years.
This year, the Orangemen had issued a statement saying they had decided not to submit the necessary form for permission, presenting the British government with a potentially dangerous situation.
However, they changed their minds after they met British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson at Stormont and learned of the Lurgan summonses, according to a report by the Belfast News Letter.
Only a symbolic Orange Order protest parade is now set to take place at Drumcree on Sunday, and trouble is not expected.
However, clashes which flared on Thursday night in nearby Craigavon, in which two vans were burned out, have been linked to anger by RSF supporters at the surprise arrests.
ORANGEMEN TO MARCH
On Tuesday, thousands of members of the anti-Catholic Orange Order are due to take part in 18 giant demonstrations across the north in ‘the Twelfth’ -- the biggest day ofthe unionist marching calendar, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
It is preceded by the ‘Eleventh Night’, when loyalist paramilitary bonfires herald the start of a fraught 24-hour period for nationalists and the North in general.
Although hundreds of sectarian parades will be held on Tuesday, only a dozen or so are considered contentious.
The Orange Order has traditionally refused to hold talks with nationalist residents to find alternative routes in these areas, and has insisted the parades should be viewed as ‘tourist attractions’.
Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson also surprised commentators this week when he blamed trouble caused by the parades’ loyalist supporters, on Music Television.
He was speaking following disorder which erupted in the aftermath of an Orange Order parade in east Belfast last week.
“My analysis is that these young people, what they think is cool and socially acceptable they don’t take their lead from the Orange Order or the churches or the traditional organisations, but they take it from the media, they take it from people like MTV,” he said.
Sinn Fein Assembly member Alex Maskey said the attempt by the Orange Order to blame MTV for drunken violence after the parades as further evidence of an “organization unwilling to accept responsibility for its actions.”
“When it comes to disorder and illegality at Orange parades it is never the fault of the Order,” he said.
“Over the years, variously nationalists, the police, the Parades Commission and the weather have been blamed for drunken bandsmen, Orangemen and hangers on.
“Bizarrely, today, MTV has been added to the list. It is high time the Orange Order lived up to it’s responsibilities. They should recognize how a number of their parades are offensive to host communities where they insist on marching through.”
‘JAIL CAN END TROUBLE’ - JUDGE
Meanwhile, heavy sentences imposed against nationalist rioters this week are designed to ensure there is no repeat of the trouble which followed an Orange parade in north Belfast last year, according to Belfast CrownCourt judge, Tom Burgess.
Sentences of four years each were handed down to two youths who pleaded guilty, amid scenes of uproar in the court.
As 21-year-old Hugh Martin was handcuffed and led to the cells, friends, family and supporters in the packed public gallery reacted furiously to the sentence with shouts of “Stop the marches, stop the rioting”.
Last year, several nights of rioting erupted over the Orange Order’s provocative and coat-trailing ‘Twelfth’ march through the heart of divided north Belfast.
Handing down some twenty riot-related sentences, Judge Burgess said: “As long as these matters go on and people involve themselves in it, then sentences will be passed and the starting point will be custody to prevent this sort of behaviour coming back into our society.”
A loyalist parade in the tiny County Fermanagh village of Newtownbutler later today [Friday] is expected to face a nationalist protest.
The Newtownbutler Area Residents Coalition has appealed to the wider community to come to support the people of the village today in a protest against the giant band parade.
The residents have said that they have no problem with the local Orangemen marching, but have protested loyalist plans for 25 bands and at least 500 supporters to march through the nationalist community, which has a population of less than 1,000.
An extraordinary loyalist paramilitary death threat has been issued against a local traditional folk band in connection with the march. The LVF said it would shoot members of the High Kings ballad group if the loyalist band parade is rerouted from Newtownbutler. It is understood the folk band in question has no connection with the protest in the village.