Loyalists pull out of meeting with residents
by Laura Friel
Organisers of a contentious loyalist parade through North Belfast pulled out of a secret meeting with nationalist residents on the eve of the Parades Commission's ruling, An Phoblacht has learned. The Parades Commission was aware that a meeting between the parade organisers and some local residents was scheduled to take place on Sunday night. But at the last moment, and without giving a reason, organisers of the loyalist parade refused to go ahead with the meeting.
On Monday, the newly appointed Commission announced its decision to restrict the proposed parade of loyalist bands away from sensitive areas at Gray's Lane, the Antrim Road and Serpentine Road. Loyalists responded by calling off the parade in protest at the decision. ``We give no victory to republicans or the pan nationalist front who think they can put loyal orders into confrontation with the RUC,'' said a spokesperson.
It's untenable for loyalists to refuse to engage with people through whose streets they propose to tramp
Three loyalist bands, including the Whitewell Defenders and the Cloughfern Young Conqueror, who were suspended by the Apprentice Boys after serious trouble during parades in Derry in 1997, had applied to march from the Graymount estate to White City, a loyalist area of North Belfast. A member of one of the bands, John Gregg, acts as a representative for the UFF with General de Chastelain. The proposed parade would have passed the local Catholic chapel during Saturday evening Mass.
Commenting, Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly said that dialogue should take place between local residents and parade organisers. ``The opportunity for dialogue had arisen,'' said Kelly. ``The fact that the parade organisers pulled out of the meeting sends a depressing signal to nationalist communities facing another Orange marching season. It's untenable for loyalists to refuse to engage with people through whose streets they propose to tramp.''
Kelly pointed out that this was the first time a loyalist parade along this route had been proposed and accused the organisers of attempting to create ``a new flashpoint designed to stir up strife in an area which had already been targeted by loyalists in a concerted campaign of sectarian violence and intimidation''.
In recent years, over 80 Catholic families have been driven out of the Graymount estate by loyalist violence, which has included petrol and pipe bomb attacks. Only a handful of Catholic families still remain but at the price of living under constant threat. Catholic homes and residents have also been attacked in the Whitewell, an estate adjoining Graymount and along the Serpentine Road. Catholic business in the area have also been targeted in loyalist arson attacks.
Last September, a 13-year-old Catholic schoolgirl was shot in the stomach at close range with a pellet gun and beaten with baseball bats by three loyalists from White City. During the attack, the child was subjected to a constant stream of sectarian abuse.
Organisers of the banned parade are threatening to appeal the decision by the Commission. A spokesperson said band members would be meeting to discuss the issue. The decision to pull out of the march after restrictions were imposed showed the marchers were out to cause community tensions, said Sinn Féin.
``It seems that for the organisers of this parade it is pointless to go ahead unless they are able to parade past Catholic homes and a Catholic church,'' said Gerry Kelly. ``It is now clear that the entire ethos of this parade was to cause offence.''
Meanwhile, the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition has been granted leave to seek a judicial review questioning the makeup of the newly appointed Parades Commission. The residents' group is seeking a review on the grounds that the Commission is not representative. Nationalists across the north have criticised the lack of nationalist representation on the new Commission.
Garvaghy delegation attacked by Orangemen
By Laura Friel
Portadown Councillors Breandán MacCionnaith and Joe Duffy were attacked by protesting Orangemen as they drove to a meeting of Craigavon Council on Monday night. The car in which the two independent nationalist councillors were travelling was attacked by loyalists carrying flag poles and banners.
Around 60 Portadown Orangemen gathered outside Craigavon Civic Centre shortly before the monthly meeting of Craigavon Council. In a letter handed into the council, a spokesperson for Portadown District Orange Lodge said.
``Members of Craigavon Borough Council should understand that Portadown District has not gone away. We are determined to complete our walk from Drumcree Parish Church via our traditional route and the sooner our local representatives accept this the sooner our town can return to normal.''
On Tuesday night, Portadown Orange Lodge denied there had been any attack on the two nationalist councillors during their hour-long protest. Prominent Portadown Orangeman David Jones said he was unaware of any such attack and described the incident as ``highly unlikely.
``People were nowhere near him (Counillor Mac Cionnaith). We were out on the main road,'' said Jones.
``This is not the first time loyalists have targeted us,'' said Breandán Mac Cionnaith. ``The Orange Order have said they are stepping up their campaign. Previous protests have been characterised by violence and intimidation.''
Craigavon District Council is to launch an investigation into the assault.
A Sinn Féin delegation met with the Parades Commission on Monday, 6 March to discuss a controversial Orange Parade planned for Lurgan on St Patrick's Day.
It is expected that over 160 loyalists will take part in the parade organised by the previously unheard of Apprentice Boys Historical Research Committee which will march from Brownlow House through Lurgan town centre to nationalist William Street.
Sinn Fein Assembly member Dr Dara O'Hagan warned that having such a parade on St Patrick's Day was bound to cause trouble. She said, ``I really do think that this is deliberately designed to cause provocation and confrontation.
``This parade will go past Rosemary Nelson's office. The Apprentice Boys is a sectarian organisation which wishes to go down into Catholic, nationalist areas of Lurgan.''
Nationalists in the area have branded the parade ``highly provocative'' and are bewildered by the organisation which had applied for the march.
``It is the first time to my knowledge that anyone has even heard of this historical committee,'' added O'Hagan. ``Nobody is saying don't march, but the question has to asked of the Apprentice Boys, why do you want to go down into a nationalist area and cause disruption?''
O'Hagan said that nationalist people would be celebrating St Patrick's Day along William Street and therefore it would be a ``recipe for disaster''.