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Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK


How Drumcree became a sectarian flashpoint

The Orange Order has marched down Garvaghy Road since 1807

By Concubhar O'Liathain in Belfast

There are a number of ironies concerning the dispute between the Orange Order and the Garvaghy Road residents over what has surely become the most infamous marching route in modern Irish history.

The Search for Peace
The current controversy first surfaced when a Nationalist accordion band was blocked during their annual St Patrick's Day parade by unionist protesters.

On that occasion, the police re-routed the parade away from the Protestant Park Road area.

Nationalists were angry that there was no such rerouting for the annual Orange parades along the Garvaghy Road.

[ image: The RUC mounts a massive security operation during the marching season]
The RUC mounts a massive security operation during the marching season
The first large scale Drumcree Parade, which came to be known as Drumcree One, happened in 1995, after the IRA had called their ceasefire during a time of relative peace in Northern Ireland. Most parades prior to this, though not all, had passed off with violence.

The parade route itself has a long history.

It is worth pointing out that the Portadown lodge of the Orange Order, Loyal Orange Lodge No. 1 (LOL 1), has incorporated the Garvaghy Road in its parade since 1 March 1807.

The events leading up to 1999's march

1985 St Patrick's Day (17 March). A nationalist accordion band is blocked from travelling via the Protestant Park Road. The police rerouted the parade but nationalists were angry because similar measures are not implemented in regard to an Orange Order parade along the Garvaghy Road.

1986 Easter Monday. A parade of the Apprentice Boys along the Garvaghy Road is banned by police. Parts of Portadown became battlegrounds, One man, Keith White, a Protestant from Lurgan, is killed by an RUC plastic bullet.

1995 May The Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) formed with the aim of expressing Catholic and nationalist opposition to Orange parades through the area.

1995, 9 July. The GRRC attempt to parade to the town centre early in the morning but are stopped by police. The Orange Order parade to its service at Drumcree Church is stopped. The Orangemen decide not to move until they are allowed to march down the Garvaghy Road.

After negotiations between the GRRC, the RUC, the Orange Order and mediators an agreement is reached which will allow the Orangemen to march back to town via the Garvaghy Road, but with no bands.

1996. Negotiations began as early as January in order to avoid a repeat of the previous year's stand off.

[ image: Orangemen look over to the nationalist Garvaghy Road while on their way to Drumcree]
Orangemen look over to the nationalist Garvaghy Road while on their way to Drumcree
In the days running up to the proposed parade, disorder escalated as loyalists threatened to bring Northern Ireland to a stand-still if the parade would not get the go-ahead.

On 8 July, the body of Michael McGoldrick, a Catholic taxi driver was discovered. He had been killed by the LVF, some of whose members had been prominent in the protests.

On the morning of 11 July, the Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, decided to force the march along the Garvaghy Road as he believed that further lives could be endangered if the parade was not allowed along the contested route.

Nationalist riots, in which one person was kiled, erupt in Belfast and Derry in response to the decision.

1997 Drumcree Three There was optimism that there might be a resolution this year as the new Labour Government was in place and the new Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, had pledged action on Drumcree.

Talks involving residents and the Orange Order - but not in direct contact with one another - were held in Hillsborough Castle, but with no significant breakthrough.

On 6 July, in the hours of early morning, the army moved in with barbed wire and other barricades.

At first it was thought that these barricades were intended to keep the Orangemen from marching down the road but when police and soldiers moved unto the road, it became clear that their intention was to force the march through and the barricades were to keep the residents away from the march.

Residents were forcibly removed after sitting down in the road with arms linked, refusing to move. The parade was allowed to march back to Portadown Town Centre via the Garvaghy Road.

In response, buses were hijacked and burned in nationalist areas of Belfast and Newry and a train was destroyed near Lurgan in Co. Armagh.

1998, 5 July. A newly established Parades Commission was in place to rule on contentious parades in place of the police who were uncomfortable with this role.

[ image: A roadblock prevents Orange Order members leaving Drumcree Church]
A roadblock prevents Orange Order members leaving Drumcree Church
The Parades Commission decided against allowing the parade and announced its decision on the Monday before the proposed march.

Proximity talks involving nationalist mediary, Peter Quinn and the Rev Roy Magee, who had been a key figure in mediating the Loyalist ceasefire, were presided over by Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's Private Secretary. They produced no significant breakthrough.

In the days preceding the parade, ten Catholic churches were attacked by loyalists.

Increased security measures were put in place to enforce the Parades Commission ruling.

When the Orangemen emerged from Drumcree Church, they were met with a huge barrier on their route to Portadown town centre via the Garvaghy Road.

A stand-off began which led to increased numbers of Orangemen coming to Portadown and pitched battles every night.

The loyalist arson attack which led to the deaths of three young brothers in Ballymoney was a critical turning point in the stand-off. The deaths of the Quinns appalled unionists and nationalists alike. Calls to abandon the protest were led by the Chaplain for the County Armagh lodge of the Orange Order, the Rev William Bingham.

Numbers began to fall off immediately but a continued presence was maintained at Drumcree by the Orangemen, led by local Grandmaster, Harold Gracey. Numbers have fluctuated at key times with riots - leading to the death in a nail bomb attack of RUC constable, Frank O'Reilly.

The latest talks, culminating in this week's meetings between David Trimble and the GRRC are the most hopeful sign yet that Drumcree 5, and all that entails, can be avoided.

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