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Monday, 8 July, 2002, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Troubled start to marching season
Drumcree has been marred by violence in recent years

For about 350 days in every year the view from the edge of Portadown across the fields to Drumcree church looks like a landscape by a minor nineteenth-century painter.

There is a bit of rolling farmland, a couple of meadows, a short stretch of winding country road and a stream with a stone bridge. And of course, there is a church.

Security was low-key to start
It is the venue for the Portadown Orange Lodge's annual parade and service to commemorate the anniversary of the battle of the Somme, and for eight years it has been one of the events which has helped to set the mood for the climax of Northern Ireland's Protestant marching season.

The Orangemen demand the right to march back into Portadown down the Garvaghy Road, as they say, they did for decades.

Low-key policing

The Catholics who live in the housing developments which have sprung along that road don't want them to, and so Northern Ireland's Parades Commission for the last five years has ruled that they can't.

So it is that for anywhere between two days and two weeks of every year, the rural peace is disrupted by a huge military operation as the security forces move in tonnes of equipment, and thousands of officers to ensure that the decision of the Parades Commission is enforced.

In the past, there has been serious rioting where Orangemen and the loyalist hangers-on who support them, have been held back at the barricade which blocks the way across country to the Garvaghy Road.
Drumcree Church
Drumcree Church is a key focus for Orangemen

This year the police tried something a little different, putting up a less formidable barricade, keeping the fortifications, the water-cannon and most of their officers and soldiers back in reserve.

It was an attempt to appeal to the instincts of the Orange Order as it likes to see itself ... as a dignified, law-abiding institution pledged to the maintenance of the Protestant accession to the British throne, and to the upholding of civil and religious liberties.

Violence condemned

Outsiders find it hard to understand how the practise of parading through the streets achieves those lofty constitutional ambitions, and many Catholics in Northern Ireland see the tradition as triumphalist and provocative when it takes place in "their" areas - a bit of coat-trailing, as it might be called in the province.

In any case, there is nothing lofty, or Christian, about the side of the Orange Order that is revealed at events like Drumcree.

injured policeman
Twenty four police officers were injured
Television pictures clearly showed Orangemen in full regalia stoning the police who actually have the job of upholding the law which the Protestant Loyal Orders theoretically hold in high regard.

Senior figures in the Orange Order have of course condemned the violence with total sincerity, but the reality is that conducting a protest at the security forces' barricades creates a climate in which trouble is almost inevitable.

The attitude of Orangemen on the ground to the thuggish hangers-on attracted by such events also seems ambivalent.

The police are adamant that arrests will follow this year's rioting after they've had a chance to identify those of their attackers caught on camera.

Wider impact

But it's worth remembering alongside the 25 police officers injured, that one of the casualties of the day was the hope expressed by at least one senior officer, that the kind of sensitive policing on offer might set the tone for a peaceful climax to the marching season.

That is not to say that violence at Drumcree, or anywhere else in Northern Ireland, inevitably begets violence elsewhere - public order incidents in the province tend to arise from friction generated by specific events in specific areas, although they are influenced by the general mood.

In one ten-day period of July there are 900 marches in Northern Ireland and the overwhelming majority pass off without incident.

But once again, Drumcree will have damaged the image of the Orange Order.

It is a curious organisation. Its members arranged for their service to be played on loudspeakers outside Drumcree church so the strains of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" drifted across the fields.

But a few minutes later some of them also took part in a serious attack on the police.

It's hard to draw lessons for the future from a single incident.

But as detectives comb the video evidence and consider what charges to press after Drumcree it will be interesting to see if the Orange Order regards itself as being on trial over the rest of the marching season.

Find out more about the Drumcree dispute in Northern Ireland

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08 Jul 02 | N Ireland
08 Jul 02 | N Ireland
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