Republican News · Thursday 23 July 1998

[An Phoblacht]

Derry civic forum debates march

By Martha McClelland

For the first time the Apprentice Boys, the Orange Order and Unionist councillors participated in community-wide discussion on the parades issue in Derry this week.

The Civic Forum, chaired by SDLP former Mayor Martin Bradley, was set up after last year's disastrous Apprentice Boys' parade. It has met only twice before and includes the Bogside Residents' Group and the Ulster Community Action Network, associated with the UDA/UDP. Although the Forum has no power, by providing a platform for discussion it could, if accommodation is reached, avoid an imposed ruling from the Parades Commission on the annual Apprentice Boys march due to take place in the city on 8 August.

The Apprentice Boys have already announced their intention to march the full length of the Walls. The Parades Commission is likely to permit this, although to do so would fly in the face of all their criteria for contentious parades, in damage to community relations, civic and business disruption, and violence associated with the march.

The Bogside Residents' Group have submitted a number of proposals for consideration to the Forum. These include limiting the numbers participating, particularly of bands, an alcohol ban and restricting the route of the march. One very contentious aspect is the closure of the city centre arising from the route. The Apprentice Boys insist on going to the War Memorial in the Diamond twice, by a main shopping thoroughfare, shutting down the city centre for hours on a busy Saturday.

Derry's Apprentice Boys march in August is the North's largest and most disruptive Loyalist march. Even Belfast's 12th of July parade is smaller, since the numerous parades dispersed across the North limits the numbers at any one parade. Last year, 149 bands marched into Derry city centre (including one with LVF colours), closing down most businesses for the day and resulting in massive civic unrest.

The business community, tourism promoters and even residents of a Unionist housing estate have objections to the march. In contrast to the 12th of July, which is a bank holiday, the Apprentice Boys march falls on a normally busy Saturday. Business losses run into thousands. Business people are further incensed because the second major Apprentice Boys event, the Burning of Lundy, takes place on the busiest shopping day in the year, the second Saturday before Christmas.

Ironically, even residents of the Loyalist Fountain estate have problems with the marches. Consultation revealed that residents feel the march lasts too long, inundating the Fountain. Worse, pensioners complain that heavily-drinking Loyalist bandsmen rush into the only Unionist estate on the cityside - not to embrace their brethren, but to relieve themselves in entryways and gardens.

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