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Tuesday, May 4, 1999 Published at 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK


Drumcree: 'Terrible poison'

The march, held for 192 years, first sparked violence in the 1990s

The Drumcree march is the biggest flashpoint in Northern Ireland's marching season, and in recent years has led to serious unrest.

The Search for Peace
The march, which takes place every Sunday before 12 July, has been an annual parade by the Protestant Orange Order since 1807.

It celebrates the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, when King William of Orange defeated the Stuart King James.

The Co Armagh route, decided 192 years ago, used to be uncontroversial, but over the years demographic changes have meant it passes through a mainly Catholic area - the Garvaghy Road.

[ image: Orangemen have been holding a vigil at Drumcree church since July 1998]
Orangemen have been holding a vigil at Drumcree church since July 1998
The march became a serious political issue in 1995 when the RUC decided to prevent it from passing through the contentious area.

It was the start of what was to become a repeat crisis for Northern Ireland each July, at times threatening to destabilise the whole society.

In 1995 there were intermittent clashes at Drumcree, with protesters throwing bottles and bricks and stones, and the police firing plastic bullets. Trouble occurred in several loyalist areas.

Eventually a few hundred Orangemen were allowed to walk along their chosen route, despite the protests of local nationalists.

Violence and fear

In 1996 the RUC again decided to stop the march from going down the Garvaghy Road.

This sparked loyalist violence across Northern Ireland, during which a Catholic taxi driver was murdered. The RUC reported 452 attacks on the police, and 37 civilians were injured.

The government and RUC then staged a dramatic U-turn, allowing a symbolic 1,000 marchers to complete their route.

This in turn sparked a week of rioting from nationalists. Amid this unrest, republican dissidents were blamed for a bomb attack at the Killyhevlin Hotel at Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, which injured 40 people.

The government set up the independent Parades Commission to try to find a solution.

Arson attack

The following year, the Parades Commission advised that the march should be allowed down the Garvaghy Road, despite residents' protests.

This sparked nationalist rioting across Northern Ireland, with cars set alight and police firing hundreds of rounds of plastic bullets. However, the Orange Order cancelled four other contentious parades.

In 1998 tension swelled on the run-up to 12 July. A wave of loyalist violence swept Northern Ireland, and during this period three young brothers died in an arson attack on a house in Ballymoney.

Following the decision by the Parades Commission to ban the parade from the Garvaghy Road, Orangemen immediately began a vigil at Drumcree church, which they vowed not to end until their right to march was re-established.

There were again violent protests at Drumcree and some police officers were seriously injured.

In May 1999, the Drumcree vigil enters its tenth month, and negotiations continue to find a solution to what Prime Minister Tony Blair has called a "terrible poison in the system of Northern Ireland".

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