Parades held amid tensions over ‘secret’ Drumcree talks

An Orange Order march in west Belfast passed off quietly last weekend despite a controversial incursion onto the republican Springfield Road.

Fifty marchers of the Protestant marching organisation were allowed by the Parades Commission to cross the peaceline on to the Springfield Road at Workman Avenue.

About 150 nationalist protesters peacefully demonstrated against the march.

The Whiterock parade was the previously the scene of some of the worst disturbances in the North in recent years, when UVF banners -- including one to loyalist killer Brian Robinson -- were carried past nationalist homes, sparking outrage that led to riots.

The so-called ‘mini twelfth’ also passed off without major incident in east Belfast.

Sinn Féin representative Niall O Donnghaile however described the parade as “extremely provocative”, with loyalist flags in evidence and nationalist protestors subjected to jeering and abuse.

“All of this brings into question the rational for allowing such a large scale and disruptive parade to be allowed to pass along a stretch of road solely occupied by Nationalist and Republican homes,” he said.

The marches took place after it emerged that Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams had met members of the Orange Order from Portadown to discuss their Drumcree parade, once the most contentious parade in the North and still the focus of an ongoing dispute.

The Orange Order has since criticised its Portadown members for meeting the Sinn Féin president.

Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson said the organisation’s leadership would not be prepared to meet Sinn Féin until the party leadership expressed “sorrow and regret”.

“We do not believe that clandestine meetings are in the best interests of the institution,” he said.

SDLP assembly member Dolores Kelly said her party supported dialogue between residents and the loyal orders but criticised the talks between Mr Adams and Portadown Orangemen.

“Residents in Portadown will be worried about this development,” she said.

“They are concerned that they may be bought and sold as the price for some kind of wider political fix.

“If that is the case it will demand serious explanations from the DUP and especially from the leadership of Sinn Féin.”

Garvaghy Road residents’ spokesman Breandan Mac Cionnaith also warned that there had been applications for a series of parades through nationalist areas of Portadown in coming weeks.

He said parades in the County Armagh town must not become part of any political trade-off.

“We recognise that once again there are partisan political influences at play and that the commission may feel it needs to succumb to pressure from certain political quarters and issue a determination in favour of a contentious march along either Obins Street or the Garvaghy Road,” he said.

“The only factors which the Parades Commission should consider in making their decisions in relation to these contentious marches are those criteria and legal factors outlined in our submission.

“Anything else would be unjust, unfair and undoubtedly outside the commission’s legal remit.”

Local Sinn Féin assembly member John O’Dowd defended his party leader’s decision to meet the Orangemen.

“As two of the largest organisations on this island we have a responsibility to try and resolve outstanding issues, including Drumcree,” he said.

“We informed the order that there is no need for a parade through Garvaghy Road.

“The only long-term solution is through agreed dialogue.”


Meanwhile, increasing sectarian attacks in Belfast have been linked to tensions related to the marching season.

On Monday night, there was a serious sectarian attack on a young man walking home from the Docks area in North Belfast amid heightened tension in the area.

The attack follows an incident at the weekend where two teenagers were attacked by a gang from the Tiger’s Bay area as they left a fast food outlet in North Belfast.

Sinn Féin’s Caral Ni Chuilin said there were “serious concerns” about the increase in sectarian attacks in the area.

“These sectarian attacks undermine community relations particularly in the middle of the loyalist marching season when local people already feel under severe strain because of the high volume of loyalist demonstrations across North Belfast.

“I want to appeal directly to political unionism to condemn these sectarian attacks and provide leadership on the ground. I also want to call for calm in the face of these attacks.”

An ‘Eleventh Night’ loyalist bonfire in south Belfast -- one of hundreds normally lit on the eve of July 12, the height of the Protestant marching season -- was set alight prematurely yesterday.

‘Arsonists’ were blamed for igniting the bonfire, amid concerns that it may have been about to collapse.

Elsewhere, a death threat has been received by Ballymena Borough Council against Sinn Féin Councillor Monica Digney.

A receptionist at the council offices received a call from someone purporting to be holding a gun to Ms Digney’s head and about to pull the trigger.

“Obviously I was shocked at this news, as was the poor woman who had taken the call,” she said.

The call follows similar threats made last week against North Antrim Assembly member Daithi McKay, Ballymoney Councillor, Anita Cavlan and a constituency office worker.

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© 2008 Irish Republican News