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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK

UK Politics

Security chiefs get tough for Drumcree

Security sources say they are prepared for any eventuality

Security chiefs in Northern Ireland have drawn up their toughest action plan yet to prevent loyalist violence at Drumcree this summer, it has been disclosed.

With no sign of a compromise being reached over the 4 July flashpoint parade, the fields around the tiny parish church are to be ploughed in a bid to stop members of the Orange Order staging another stand-off.

The Search for Peace
The new tactic is part of an elaborate four-point plan which has been drawn up to try to avert more violence, according to senior security sources.

"If the farmer won't plough the field we will plough it for him," one source said.

Police chiefs are determined that loyalists should not be able to congregate en masse, as they have done for the past three years.

Last year thousands of loyalists gathered on the fields around Drumcree church after the Parades Commission banned Orangemen from marching down the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown on the way back from their annual service.

Dozens of police and protesters were injured in the clashes which followed.

During the height of the trouble, 70 police officers were hurt, some seriously, and several loyalists were badly wounded by plastic baton rounds fired across police lines.

[ image: Police want to avoid another stand-off with massed ranks of Orangemen at Drumcree church]
Police want to avoid another stand-off with massed ranks of Orangemen at Drumcree church
One policeman, Frankie O'Reilly, was killed during a loyalist riot in Portadown which was linked to Drumcree.

Another tense stand-off is expected if the Orange Order is prevented from marching its traditional route this year.

'We're ready, whatever'

Police have drawn up three other contingency plans to cover alternative scenarios, such as the Orangemen being allowed down the Garvaghy Road, which is expected to spark fierce anger from nationalists.

"We are ready for this, whatever happens. It looks like we could be in for a tough time again and everything possible is being done so that we are ready," the source said.

Loyalists are still staging demonstrations and vigils at Drumcree, nearly a year after their 1998 march was re-routed.

The stand-off and continuing protests have cost more than £3m in police overtime alone. Talks aimed at resolving the dispute got under way earlier this week, but there has been no sign of a compromise.

Loyalists and nationalists were due to meet on Thursday for the second time in Craigavon, near Portadown, to try to thrash out a deal.

Pressure has been mounting on both sides in the dispute since the Parades Commission chairman Alistair Graham warned that an enforced decision on the march was becoming more likely.

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