Republican News · Thursday 19 August 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Armoured RUC thugs batter nationalists

Parades Commission blamed for brutal Ormeau attack

By Roisin Cox
The police were brutal. It was the worst I've seen. I'm relieved no one in my community is dead.

Gerard Rice, spokesperson for the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community

ANY CREDIBILITY retained by the Parades Commission was shattered on Saturday morning last, 14 August, when a large force of body-armoured RUC officers beat peaceful nationalist protesters off the Ormeau Road to facilitate a parade of 19 members of the Apprentice Boys.

Protesters opposing the parade, which they see as a supremacist coat-trailing exercise, were forcibly removed from the street in a sustained and brutal attack by the RUC.

At 5.30am, the RUC, in full riot gear, saturated the Lower Ormeau Road area to forcibly remove 300 protesters engaged in a peaceful sit-down protest against the Parades Commission's ruling that the parade should proceed.

A savage three-hour police operation ensued, during which protesters were kicked, punched, and batoned by RUC officers determined to clear a path for the Apprentice Boys.

RUC officers surrounded the protesters on both sides. They batoned them and then dragged them off the road, one by one, in an attempt to break the human chain. Protesters were systematically struck on the head and then dragged off to a side street, where the beatings continued.

Éamonn O Dochartaigh, an independent observer to the Ormeau Road with AFrI, a human rights group concerned with the rights of Third World people, sustained a broken nose and damage to both hands when he was batoned by the RUC

Eamonn O Dochartaigh, who was clearly identified as an independent observer from the human rights group, Action From Ireland (AFrI), had his nose broken and both hands injured. The video camera he was using was smashed. He recalled the assault by RUC officers:

``When the police charged, I was on the pavement outside the Lower Ormeau Residents' Action Group centre. I was still filming. They came at me from behind. One minute I was filming a policeman batoning a man, the next minute I got an almighty wallop and fell flat on my face. I couldn't move and I could see police boots all around me.''

O Dochartaigh was brought to the City Hospital, where it was confirmed that his nose was broken and that he had a whiplash injury to his neck.

Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley, who was also injured during the attack, has said that the RUC indiscriminately battered people off the road.

``Protesters,'' he said, ``clung to each other as the front line of those sitting on the road were brutalised by the RUC. As we held each other, batons rained down on our heads, shoulders, arms and legs. The RUC used their riot shields to lunge into the bodies of anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in the front line of those sitting down.''

An independent observer from the human rights group, Action From Ireland (AFrI), had his nose broken and both hands injured. The video camera he was using was smashed.
Gerard Rice, spokesperson for the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community, said:

``The police were brutal. It was the worst I've seen. I'm relieved no one in my community is dead.''

More serious injury to the demonstrators was only avoided by the actions of Gerard Rice. Faced with the strong probability of greater injury to the protesters, Rice led them off the Ormeau Road and into a side street, were the protest continued.

At 8.40am, as those nationalists not being treated for their injuries roared defiance, 19 Apprentice Boys displayed their supremacy as their march was allowed to proceed along the Lower Ormeau Road.

Parish Priest Anthony Curran has laid the blame for events firmly at the door of the Parades Commission. He said:

``I told Alistair Graham that he should be ashamed of himself. The Parades Commission's decision has set back the peace process.''

The unprovoked and violent attack on nationalists was a return to characteristic form by the RUC. Excessive force was enthusiastically applied in response to what was a peaceful protest.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Martin McGuinness also slammed the actions of the RUC on the Ormeau Road:

``This parade should never have happened. The brutality of the RUC against peaceful protesters on the Lower Ormeau Road once again highlights the sectarian nature of the force.''

Ormeau residents' leader Gerard Rice tries to reason with the RUC at the height of their assault on residents

Media blackout

DESPITE the presence of dozens of cameramen and journalists on the Ormeau Road on 14 August, it appears that a media blackout on the events and, in particular, RUC brutality was in force. Media coverage showed minor scuffles between the RUC and protesters but did nothing to highlight the inhumane way in which protesters were treated by RUC officers. The fact that cameramen did film graphic displays of RUC brutality only goes to show that, in the eyes of most major news channels, the public humiliation of nationalists by the RUC and the Apprentice Boys is not considered newsworthy. Reports of attacks on nationalist protesters on the Ormeau by the RUC were largely played down, with strong implications that the protesters were responsible for the violence.

Apprentice Boy Tommy Cheevers marches past the Seán Graham shop on the Lower Ormeau where loyalists massacred five nationalists in 1992

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