Republican News · Thursday 13 July 2000

[An Phoblacht]

`Here we stand, we can do no other'


There's a scene in the film of HG Wells' `The time machine' in which at the sound of a siren, normal everyday activities stop and the entire populace moves as one body, walking slowly in a trance-like state towards great metal doors in a cliff face.

In the film, the doors open and some pass into the hillside, where they become fodder for creatures of the dark who live on human flesh. Their fate appears inevitable. It is how it has always been. In a society built upon the foundation of untimely death, it is simply the price to be paid for their version of paradise.

Last Saturday night, in a field adjacent to Drumcree church, watching hundreds of Orangemen and their supporters standing before a great metal barrier erected by the British Army to thwart their determination to march through the nationalist Garvaghy Road, HG Wells' tale came suddenly to mind.

Apart from a few young loyalists, who gladly cavorted in front of the cameras, the rest of the crowd stood, orderly, still and beyond the occasional cheer, in silence. Earlier they had knocked on the great metal door, with their fists; later, with sticks and stones and bottles and bricks.

They had beaten the air with their drums. They had split the silence with strains of `We are the Billy Boys', but there was no one to answer and the door remained firmly shut. Now the hollow ring of metal being pounded seemed only to engulf them further in the political vacuum towards which they had been so inextricably drawn.

d the creatures of the dark, up to their necks in fenian blood, were prowling within their ranks. A loyalist flag amongst the Orange banners signalled a paramilitary presence. The media peered through its camera lenses and binoculars, hoping for another glimpse of UDA mass sectarian killer Johnny Adair and his Shankill gang.

A bored cameraman urged loyalist elements within the crowd, ``come on lads play with us''. A teenager carrying a Scottish flag stumbled through razor wire across ploughed land. Another `mooned' at the media, but it was all too tame for the predators amongst the press.

A few days earlier, Adair and scores of other tattooed loyalist toughs had jogged down Drumcree hill under the banner of the `Shankill Road UFF, 2nd Batt. C. Coy'. Later, in a nearby housing estate, Adair watched as masked gunmen from the LVF fired a volley of shots in a loyalist show of strength.

The Orange Order had filed for and been granted permission for marches up to Drumcree every night but on Monday, no one had turned up. Local loyalists had preferred to attend a tribute to the late Billy Wright. Friday's march was called off in deference to the funeral of Ballymoney motorcycling champion Joey Dunlop.

But nothing could hide the fact that the turnout for Orange protests in Portadown had been dismal all week. And now on Saturday night, as the light faded, the shadowy figures at Drumcree fell into increasing silence before slowly leaving the hill. In a few hours, the ritual would begin again.

In St John's Catholic Chapel on the edge of the nationalist Garvaghy Road estate, the sound of a distant drum signalled the start of another Orange Order march as Sunday morning massgoers concluded their act of worship. The chapel had already been encircled with concrete boulders and razor wire, lines of British Army vehicles stood in the car park.

The graveyard at the rear had been screened from the view of anyone walking along the route to Drumcree Church, as if even dead fenians might enrage a passing Orangeman. At the entrance to the estate, a concrete and razor wire reinforced British Army road block prevented drivers and pedestrians from leaving or entering the area.

In the chapel grounds, informal groups of residents waited and watched, anxious to see how many Orangemen would march to the hill that day. Their calculation was simple; the fewer the marchers the less likelihood of trouble.

In the last four years during the Orange marching season, more than 550 families across the North have been left homeless after being forced to flee from their homes following attacks and intimidation. Eleven people have been killed as a direct result of Drumcree protests.

In 1998, three small boys were burnt to death during a loyalist petrol bomb attack on their home. In 1999, a 59-year-old Protestant grandmother who was married to a Catholic died in a pipe bomb attack at her Corcrain home.

In all, the homes of around 73 families, all Catholics or people in mixed relationships were attacked by loyalists and 55 other buildings have been damaged. According to official statistics there has been over 280 loyalist attacks, including 15 gun attacks over a week, including one killing, and over 300 petrol bombings. A further 941 petrol bombs have been seized.

Two Catholic primary schools in Newtonabbey and an integrated secondary school in Carrickfergus were fire bombed last week. A number of Catholic-owned businesses have also been targeted by arsonists.

Earlier this week, two nationalists walking home in the Ardoyne area of North Belfast narrowly escaped death and injury during a sectarian murder bid by masked loyalist gunmen. The gun jammed after two shots were fired at close range. During protests in support of the Orange Order last week, over 88 vehicles were hijacked and a further 358 damaged.

On the Garvaghy Road, a local resident recalls a recent telephone conversation. ``My daughter lives in a mixed area on the outskirts of Portadown,'' she tells us. ``She said I live in the safest part of the North.''

A group of women around her laughed nervously but without conviction. They had all read that morning's Sunday newspapers and the reports of a loyalist threat to ``kill a taig a day'' if the Orangemen don't get down the Garvaghy Road.

The area was swamped with thousands of British soldiers and a contingent of RUC, the trenches had been dug, the barricades were up but residents remained skeptical. Political expediency can change from day to day.

Last year, lines of riot clad, helmeted and visored RUC riot squad officers had faced nationalist residents standing in the chapel grounds. This year, only a handful of RUC officers, still dressed in their riot fatigues but without their ``robocop'' head gear mingled amongst the crowd.

Later, in the field adjacent to Drumcree church, be-suited RUC press officers chatted to the world's media. An RUC officer took time out to greet international observers, hands were shaken and polite words exchanged. A Canadian observer, who has monitored events at Drumcree for the last three years, expressed amazement: ``Did you see that?''

By midday on Sunday, outside St. John's chapel, 2,000 Orangemen were marching past on their way to Drumcree church. Neat and orderly, rank after rank of Orange Order members passed the barb wired encirclement.

Bands had been limited to a few accordion players. There were no loyalist colour parties as seen on the Springfield Road. A group of loyalists carrying a home made UFF banner walked alongside the parade.

A handful of supporters shouted sectarian abuse. ``Get back into your chapel, you fenian bastards,'' a woman shouted at residents. Another threatened ``we'll burn your chapel down''.

Across the road, a known loyalist from Dungannon stood with a small group of women, one wearing a red, white and blue umbrella hat. ``You'll not be walking the Garvaghy Road McKenna,'' one of them shouted.

Orangeman, unable to contain himself any longer, broke from the silent ranks of his Order. ``Get home and wash yourselves,'' he bawled at residents standing in the chapel grounds. Another Orangeman whooped with glee in solidarity with his colleague's racist remark.

hour later and the focus was back at Drumcree. Harold Gracey, the district master of the Portadown Orange Lodge, stood in front of the British Army barrier to address the crowd, apparently as immovable as the concrete filled bunker behind him.

Last week in calling for action, Gracey claimed Orangemen were ``on their bellies''. A few protests later and the Portadown master reassessed his claim. ``The Protestant people are now off their bellies and on their knees. Soon they will be on their feet. I didn't call for violence, I called for protest. I am saying to our people, continue.''

The crowd clapped and cheered as Gracey accused Protestant church leaders of ``corrupting our young people with ecumenism''. It was an ``ecumenical conspiracy,'' he said. Brid Rodgers, the local SDLP minister should ``go back to Donegal where she came from'', said Gracey.

Philip Black of the Long March Committee condemned the Belfast Agreement, where ``terrorists are rewarded with positions in government while churchgoers are denied their right to return from their worship along a traditional route''.

Sectarian segregation in a one-party state is the Orangeman's vision of paradise, and loyalists like Johnny Adair are lurking in the shadows, waiting to unleash sectarian terror in a vain attempt to restore it to them.

In HG Wells' story, the enchantment is broken and the people, released from the inevitability of their past, begin constructing a new society free from the violence of the human flesh eater.

At Drumcree, the Orange Order and its supporters protested under flags bearing the slogan ``Here we stand, we can do no other''. It is a lie. There are alternatives. They involve dialogue, tolerance, understanding, equality and power sharing.

It's time for Orangemen and their fellow rejectionists to wake from their self-induced trance and start working with the rest of us towards building a better and brighter future for all our children.

Under an Orange Arch


There were three of them, standing alone under an Orange arch at the furthest end of the Garvaghy Road. Naomi, Judy and Nicole, young women from Minnesota, who had travelled thousands of miles to this small corner of Ireland to act as observers during the Orange marching season at Drumcree.

A hundred yards further down the road, a joint British Army/RUC checkpoint was stopping cars driving into the nationalist enclave. British soldiers watched the International Observers monitoring them. Conscientiously, the three women noted down every incident.

A particular car was giving some cause for concern. It had driven past twice but the driver had been different. The first driver, corpulent and moustached, had leered out of his open window. The vehicle slowed down to almost a stop as it approached two of the observers. The occupant stared into their faces, then making some kind of gesture with his right hand, he drove off at speed.

Overhead, the Orange arch, decorated with cannons, sailing ships and symbols of salvation, Jacob's ladder, Christ's cross and the flags of unionism, the Union Jack and a loyalist red hand, could offer neither shelter nor comfort on that lonely stretch of road.

Across the street in a row of terraced houses, the occasional chimney smoked, the only sign of life as the light faded and the sky threatened more rain. Judy lit a cigarette. ``I don't normally smoke at home,'' she smiles. ``Neither do I,'' says Naomi.

other car raced past at speed, the squeal of its wheels momentarily filling the evening gloom. ``It's so unpredictable,'' says Naomi. ``Even when it's quiet it's still tense.'' A car drives past with a couple and three children. ``There's a sense of relief when you see a family,'' says Naomi.

Judy is a social worker attached to a secondary school. ``I like a challenge,'' she says. Judy is concerned about the spate of teenage suicides that have recently occurred within the Garvaghy Road community.

``I've met some of the young people here,'' she says. ``They're quite different from teenagers at home. More grown up, much more serious. I guess the situation robs them of their youth.''

Among the many international observers from all parts of the world, there are currently over 160 American and Canadian observers in the Six Counties, working in flash point areas. For many, like the three women from Minnesota, it was their first time in Ireland. For others, it has been an annual commitment over a number of years.

Pat Doherty is a veteran observer on the Garvaghy Road. ``It's a straightforward civil rights issue,'' says Pat, and one quite familiar to the American people. In the 1950s, when six black schoolchildren were to enrol in a formally whites' only secondary school, the white supremacists and segregationalists in Little Rock, Arkansas, brought the state to a standstill.

``The KKK threatened violence much the same as the loyalists have done here,'' says Pat. The state governor rang President Eisenhower and told him he couldn't guarantee the children's safety if integration was forced on the state.

``Eisenhower was a military man. He said don't worry and dropped thousands of troops into Arkansas overnight,'' says Pat, ``It was just a matter of facing them down. It'll be much the same here, I guess.'' The showdown was repeated by Kennedy in the early `60s in Mississippi and Alabama.

``Irish Americans have become significant power brokers within the American political system,'' says Pat, ``both within the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The nomination of vice presidential candidates is to be announced within two weeks. Almost certainly they'll be Irish Americans.''

As for the Garvaghy Road, the tone of this year's ruling by the Parades Commission was significantly different. ``The residents have won the argument,'' says Pat. ``In the end, who can argue with the right to live free from sectarian harassment?''

Amongst the international media at Drumcree, Congressman Donald Payne of the American Black Caucus is saying much the same thing. ``It's a civil rights issue,'' says Payne, ``and the Orange Order can't hide behind notions of tradition and culture.''

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