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Councillor Rosaleen Hughes
has urged everyone to vote on the Ormeau parades issue
 real 56k

Thursday, 3 August, 2000, 06:36 GMT 07:36 UK
Residents vote on contentious parades

Threatening letter was sent to nationalist politicians
Organisers of a secret ballot on contentious parades have said residents should not be put off voting because of threats against two nationalist politicians.

The Lower Ormeau Concerned Community residents group (LOCC), which opposes parades by the Protestant Orange Order and Apprentice Boys through their area of south Belfast, has organised polling on the parades issue for Thursday afternoon.

The poll aims to determine the attitude of the community to loyal order parades.

John Gormley of the LOCC rejected suggestions that the ballot would be unrepresentative because it left out loyalist areas.

Meanwhile, the group's spokesman Gerard Rice said threatening letters sent to two Belfast councillors warning them to support nationalist opposition to loyalist parades on the lower Ormeau Road were hoaxes.

The letters were sent to Alasdair McDonnell and Rosaleen Hughes.

LOCC spokesman Gerard Rice:
Gerard Rice has urged everyone to take part in the vote
Mr Rice said the threatening letters and bullets had been sent by someone falsely claiming to represent the LOCC in a bid to undermine the polling process.

He said: "Rosaleen and ourselves are both agreed that this note did not come from anybody within the community. It did not come from the LOCC," he said.

"It had one purpose and one purpose only - to undermine the process that we are going to engage in of holding an opinion poll.

"This was designed because people are worried that the decision might be 90% in favour of moving parades away from the Ormeau Road."

Speaking after they received the letters on Wednesday, Social Democratic and Labour Party assemblyman and councillor Alasdair McDonnell and councillor Rosaleen Hughes said they were "bemused" about the source and called on everyone from the area to take part in the vote.

The letters claiming to have been sent by the LOCC said: "If you cannot support our ballot on Thursday then keep your mouth shut, LOCC."

Calls to express views

Mr McDonnell said he believed them to be the work of a crank.

"The point about it was, that I was supporting and encouraging people to get involved. I think it's all a bit silly and a bit stupid, but nevertheless fairly frightening," he said.

Councillor Rosaleen Hughes said she had no idea who sent the letter, and that she had been encouraging people to vote on Thursday.

"It is a very frightening situation to be in, to have received something like that.

Councillor Rosaleen Hughes
Rosaleen Hughes: "I have been encouraging people to vote"
"As regards the ballot I do hope people will come out and show a positive sign about what they really want, whether they want parades to go up the road or down the road.

"Because for the rest of our lives we are going to be fighting about parades if we don't do something solid now," she said.

Lower Ormeau residents will be able to vote on the parades issue from 1600 BST to 2000 BST on Thursday at the Shaftsbury Recreation Centre.

They will be asked a number of questions in the poll to be overseen by St Malachy's parish with the assistance of the church's Down and Connor Commission on Social Affairs.

The LOCC has said the purpose of the poll is to ensure that every person aged 16 plus from the area "will have an opportunity to freely express their opinion on the issue".

The group called on everyone to take part in the vote.

Orange Order march on the Ormeau Road
Residents being asked to give views on loyal order marches
In a statement it said: "We have found an almost unbelievable unwillingness on the part of the loyal orders to accept that our community is opposed to parades through the area.

"Tomorrow's vote gives residents the the opportunity to clearly and freely express their views on the marches in a way which will oblige everyone to take notice."

A similar poll was last conducted in the Lower Ormeau in 1995 by management consultants Coopers and Lybrand, when a large majority voted against allowing loyalist marches in the area.

The Northern Ireland Parades Commission has barred the Orange Order from marching through the lower Ormeau area during its Twelfth of July demonstrations for two years.

In response, the Order moved its main Twelfth rally site to the nearby Ormeau Park to support the Ballynafeigh Orange Lodge, which was not been allowed to march into lower Ormeau.

There were disturbances during an Apprentice Boys parade on the lower Ormeau Road in August last year, after the police removed protesters from the road.

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See also:

02 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Threats precede parades vote
07 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Orangemen to hold Ormeau rally
06 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Ban on flashpoint Orange march
13 Jul 99 | Northern Ireland
Parades Commission takes flak
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