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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK


Drumcree tension eases

By the BBC's Northern Ireland correspondent Denis Murray

As Northern Ireland's divisive marching season approaches, there are signs the appetite for a huge demonstration by members of the Protestant Orange Order at Drumcree - the most controversial of all the parades - is lessening.

The Search for Peace
Talks called by the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, to try to avoid another crisis this summer, are continuing.

The Orange Order has thousands of marches across Northern Irreland, only a few of which are controversial.

'Right to march'

The Order believes it has a right to march what it calls traditional routes - places where they have marched in the past, but which, through demographic change, have now become Catholic areas.

The biggest flashpoint is at Drumcree, on the outskirts of Portadown in County Armagh.

There the local Orangemen parade to the Church of Ireland parish church for a service on the Sunday before 12 July.

[ image: Murals on the Garvaghy Road make sentiments clear]
Murals on the Garvaghy Road make sentiments clear
The date marks the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, when the Protestant King William of Orange - "King Billy" - defeated the Catholic claimant King James.

The route to the chuch is uncontroversial but the return route is along the Garvaghy Road, now a strongly Catholic area, where the parade is regarded as triumphalist and sectarian - and is not welcome.

Last year, the march was banned from using the Garvaghy Road by the independent Parades Commission, a decision enforced by police and soldiers.

Large crowds

Huge crowds turned up every evening for a week, demanding to be allowed to march along the Garvaghy Road. There was violence and several police officers were injured by a blast bomb thrown by Protestants.

There had been a plan for Orangemen from all over Northern Ireland to converge on Drumcree on the night of 12 July but it did not happen, partly because of the violence, which many in the loyal orders saw as extremely distasteful.

But a bigger factor was the deaths of three children, who were burned alive in a petrol bomb attack on a Catholic house in Ballymoney, County Antrim.

Now Orangemen in Belfast, County Down and County Tyrone - the areas with the largest memberships - have said they will have their usual parades in their own areas, with individuals free to go to Drumcree in the evening.

Security consequences

That will ease the tension, as the security consequences of 100,000 Orangemen at Drumcree would have been considerable.

[ image: David Trimble has sought to break the deadlock]
David Trimble has sought to break the deadlock
Some in the Orange Order have refused to take part in the talks with Mr Trimble, Northern Ireland's First Minister.

There has been no breakthrough at the talks, but all sides have spoken of them as positive.

The Parades Commission has yet to rule on this year's parade.

But unless the Orange Order talks to it, or the representatives of the Catholic residents - both of which the order has repeatedly refused to do - there seems little likelihood of the march being allowed along the Garvaghy Road.

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