Unionist violence on parade in the 1990s


Declassified state papers recorded the chaotic handling of the Drumcree parade dispute, as nationalists in Portadown began protesting against sectarian marches by the Orange Order and its loyalist supporters.

While Sinn Fein were publicly accused of provoking clashes between the RUC police and nationalist community, British officials admitted then UUP leader Dvid Trimble tried to sabotage an agreement to end the first major Drumcree parade dispute.

They expressed support for the 1995 resolution at Portadown “which the dreadful Trimble did his best to obstruct and spoil”.

But in 1996, the Dublin government was enraged by a sudden reversal wbich saw residents brutally cleared from the nationalist Garvaghy road by the RUC to make way for an Orange parade. Even the famously pro-unionist Taoiseach John Bruton took British Prime Minister John Major to task for “showing force winning the day”.

He said that efforts at negotiating a resolution to the stand-off had been “just swept aside” by the RUC’s move to attack the protestors, and there was no sense that the London government was in charge.

Burton likened the climbdown to 1974, when the British gave in to loyalist threat to collapse a previous attempt at power-sharing in the Six Counties.

Major claimed that matters “were a bit more complex than that” because “nobody is going to talk” to Garvaghy Road residents spokesman, Breandán Mac Cionnaith, because of his IRA conviction.

“David Ervine was a terrorist too,” retorted Bruton, referring to the loyalist politician then engaged in multi-party talks taking place in Belfast.

Unionist threats of violence continued to affect the parades issues for the next two years.

In 1998, one note quoted Ulster Unionist Party leader and Orangeman John Taylor as threatening at a meeting that “if the (Orange) march doesn’t go through, the Garvaghy Road won’t exist after Monday”.

He was further reported as saying said that “thousands of people will be without a home” if the march fails to go through.

However, following a period of sustained violence at the height of the standoff in 1998, there was a significant change of direction following the loyalist murders of three young Catholic brothers in Ballymoney.

The three Quinn children were killed in unionist paramilitary firebomb attack on their home. British officials noting the atrocity had “changed the mood” as unionist protests were disbanded.

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