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Sunday, July 5, 1998 Published at 18:37 GMT 19:37 UK

Day of reckoning passes peacefully

Orange Order route is blocked at the Gavarghy Road

The BBC's Ireland Correspondent, Mark Devenport, looks back at Sunday events.

The stand-off is under way at Drumcree on the outskirts of Portadown. The annual Orange Order parade came to a halt shortly after one o'clock on Sunday at the barricades put up by the security forces to stop the marchers from going along the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road.

The Orangemen are insisting on their right to take their traditional route from Drumcree Church, in spite of the ruling by the independent Parades Commission against it. Several thousand members of the Protestant order travelled to the town to join the 1,400 local people who normally take part in the march.

[ image: Marchers before the service]
Marchers before the service
They are now facing 2,000 police and troops across the barbed wire and they say they will stay there until they are allowed to pass.

Earlier on Sunday, the marchers set off from the centre of Portadown towards the church - this part of the march does not pass through nationalist areas and is not banned.

Inside Drumcree Church they listened to the minister, the Reverend John Pickering, tell them that the last three years, which have also witnessed confrontations, had been bad enough, but that this year's security operation was indescribably worse.

[ image: Crowds outside the church]
Crowds outside the church
Undeterred the Orangemen left the church and headed directly for the steel barrier erected by the army to block their path. The show of defiance delighted their supporters in a nearby field.

At the barrier, the Orangemen were not able to find a senior RUC officer to accept a letter of protest and were clearly displeased.

Addressing the crowd, County Armagh's most senior Orangemen, Dennis Watson, reiterated the Order's determination to stand their ground until the government reverses the decision to stop them marching down the Garvaghy Road.

[ image: Heavy police and army prescence]
Heavy police and army prescence
He said: "We will stand here as long as is necessary for the basic rights of our people to be restored. And once again I would just appeal that everything that you undertake must be done in a peaceful and dignified manner, and not to bring any discredit on the colour which we wear. Thank you."

Orange leaders demanded the resignation of the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, the Security Minister, Adam Ingram, and the government-appointed Parades Commission which made the decision to re-route this year's march.

The Orange Grand Master, Robert Saulters, said he believes the commission is biased against Protestants: "Last year we did it the quiet way and what thanks did we get for it, we got no thanks at all, this is what we're getting for it, a kick in the teeth", he said.

The nationalist residents coalition in the Garvaghy Estate may be relieved that the march has not been allowed to proceed, but they remain critical of the police operation.

Their spokesman, Breandan MacCionnaith, said he wants more done to stop Orangemen congregating at Drumcree: "If we are going to have this Parades Commission decision enacted and implemented and upheld to the full then the British government must now close the checkpoints and prevent further Loyalists coming in to Portadown".

There seems little doubt that the barriers, trenches and barbed wire in place near the church can stop the Orangemen forcing their way through, but Mr MacCionnaith is warning local people to be on alert in case there's a re-run of the scenario in 1996 when the decision to block the parade was eventually reversed.

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