Garvaghy Road residents resist loyalist extremists


By John Meehan

DUBLIN — The Protestant-chauvinist Orange Order's annual July march down the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown, Northern Ireland, on Sunday, July 4, has been banned by the British government's Parades Commission. Nevertheless, predictions would be unwise. A brief history is in order.


Drumcree I, 1995 — Paisley and Trimble's Dance of the Wolves

Residents mobilised strongly against the Orange Order marchers and there was a very long stand-off. Mediators negotiated a deal that meant allowing the Orangemen to march down the road in silence. As they marched from Drumcree Church, the Garvaghy residents massed on the paths, turned their backs and displayed anti-racist posters that proclaimed: “Re-route sectarian parades”.

Part of the deal was that there would be no Orange march down Garvaghy Road in 1996. Hard-line loyalist extremist Ian Paisley and David Trimble, the local Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MP, joined the march as it entered Portadown Town Centre. Trimble, holding hands with Paisley, declared victory.

Some months later, Trimble unexpectedly won the leadership of the UUP following Jim Molyneaux's retirement. The victory is guaranteed by the support he gained from the “Spirit of Drumcree” faction in the Orange Order. A majority of the UUP's Westminster MPs voted against their new leader.

Drumcree II, 1996 — an Orange coup d'etat

The British government decided to stop the march and an ugly stand-off resulted. TV pictures showed a breathless Trimble running up and down police lines. He conferred with loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) killer Billy Wright. In the rest of the Six Counties, the Orange Order took control — areas were sealed off, RUC officers threatened and road blocks stopped supplies of food and provisions entering nationalist towns.

After several days, the state caved in and the Orangemen were allowed to go down the Garvaghy Road. The RUC battered residents out of the way. Huge protests engulfed nationalist areas. The reformist Social Democratic and Labour Party immediately withdrew from the Stormont Forum.

Drumcree III, 1997 — Mo Mowlam plays Pontius Pilate

What is the difference between a Labour and a Tory secretary of state? The Labour one beats you up in the dark.

Mo Mowlam, new Labour secretary of state, promised to consult the residents and give them advance notice of her decision in relation to the Orange march. The decision was put off until close to midnight the day before the march and Mowlam could not spare the time to phone the residents.

The Orangemen marched down the road in the small hours of July 6. Significantly bigger protests swept through Northern Ireland. Breandan MacCionnaith, the elected spokesperson for the residents, called for Mowlam's resignation. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams did not endorse this opinion.

Some days later, an embarrassing leaked document showed that Mowlam had colluded with others in advance of the march to ensure there were “Orange feet” on the Garvaghy Road.

For the first time ever, the Orange Order was forced to call off several of its “traditional” parades. In Derry, chauvinist marchers were obliged to move out of the city and transfer their march to Limavady, several miles away.

The lesson was clear — mass mobilisation, and even the threat of it, works.

Drumcree IV, 1998 — Quinn children burned to death

The British government handed decision-making powers on disputed marches to an appointed Parades Commission. This body ruled against an Orange parade down the Garvaghy Road. Trimble was now First Minister-designate under the terms of the Good Friday agreement. The Portadown Orange leadership was allied with anti-agreement loyalists.

Just as in 1996, the Orange supporters staged marches, attacked isolated nationalist areas and threatened the RUC, their own police. On the eve of the march, loyalist arsonists petrol-bombed the Quinn household in Ballymoney, County Antrim (the constituency of Ian Paisley). Three small brothers die in the inferno.

The RUC supremo Flanagan labelled the attack “sectarian” and linked it to the Drumcree protest. Loyalist disarray is complete as First Minister Trimble agreed that the Drumcree march should be called off.

In a climate of fear and disgust, the Orange protests began to lose momentum. The Portadown “brethren” deny to this day that there was a link between their campaign and the death of the Quinn boys. The children came from a “mixed” Protestant/Catholic family and their house was in a mainly loyalist area. Analysis of many such incidents show that Orange arsonists target “mixed” families.

The Orange Order then began a permanent “siege” in Drumcree.

Drumcree V, 1999 — the siege of Garvaghy Road

The build-up to this year's stand-off at Drumcree has included almost daily Orange marches near Garvaghy Road. loyalist assassins killed the Garvaghy residents' legal adviser, Rosemary Nelson, with a car bomb in March. Evidence points to the killers being by state agents. Nelson had reported that RUC officers had made death threats against her.

More recently, loyalists killed Elizabeth O'Neill, a grandmother living near Garvaghy Road, with a pipe bomb thrown into her house. Like the Quinns, O'Neill was part of a “mixed” family.

The Parades Commission mentioned incidents like these to justify its banning this year's Drumcree Parade. Astonishingly, the commission has claimed the Orange Order has shown “flexibility”, but needs to go further.

Trimble unveiled a “plan” that proposed that the residents agree to a Garvaghy Road Orange march this year. In return, the Orange Order for the first time agreed to direct talks with the residents.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed a version of this proposal in private talks, coupled with a promise of a Lstg15 million aid package for residents of Garvaghy Road and the construction of an Orange “cultural” centre.

Rumours are circulating that an Orange march down Garvaghy Road may be part of a package negotiated at the June 30 “deadline” talks to save the Good Friday agreement. No matter what deal is struck at these talks, Garvaghy residents say they will resist any Orange march.