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Monday, July 5, 1999 Published at 06:27 GMT 07:27 UK

UK Politics

Praise for Drumcree restraint

An army helicopter hovers over the churchyard at Drumcree

The government has praised the "dignity and restraint" shown by both sides in this year's Drumcree parade dispute.

The Search for Peace
The praise for both the Orangemen and the residents of the Garvaghy Road came after a tense but relatively trouble-free night in Drumcree.

There were occasional skirmishes between loyalists and police, but nothing on the scale of last year's clashes, when almost 200 officers were injured.

The Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, also praised both sides' restraint.

'We remain vigilant'

The BBC's George Eykyn: "A small number of plastic bullets were fired"
But he said the threat of loyalist violence remained, and said the RUC would maintain its vigilance.

The chief constable said the security barriers had also played their part in defusing the potential for violence.

The Orange Order, which handed a note to police on Sunday protesting the closing off of the Garvaghy Road, called on the government for an explanation of why the parade had been halted.

[ image: A heavy police presence ensured the marchers did not get their way]
A heavy police presence ensured the marchers did not get their way
A statement issued by the Northern Ireland Office said the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had made every effort to solve the impasse but in the end the Parades Commission had to make a decision.

It said: "We still need an accommodation on this issue and as soon as possible.

"That will require real engagement without delay and the government is working to promote this."

But County Armagh Grand Master of the Orange Order, Denis Watson, has said it is now up to Mr Blair to see that the Portadown Lodge gets to complete its traditional route.

Mr Watson also denied any suggestion that the reason the lodge dispersed so quickly at Drumcree was because it wanted to meet requests made by either the Parades Commission or Mr Blair.

"Our talks have been very constructive with the prime minister," he said. "The prime minister is aware of the problems.

"He now sees where the intransigence is coming from. It is up to him now to arrange and see that that parade processes along a main arterial route back into Portadown."

Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Robin Eames, who had asked for pledges from the Orangemen before this year's parade, has also praised their actions.

"I think in the eyes of the world they have done a great deal to redeem the good name of the Orange Order," he said.

Parade through nationalist area

The parade at Drumcree is contentious because the Protestant Orange Order wants to march along the Garvaghy Road, a mainly Catholic and nationalist area.

Spokesman for the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, Breandan MacCionnaith, believes that talks between residents and Portadown Orangemen are the only way forward.

"Up front, face-to-face direct dialogue should commence now in order to prevent a repetition of this situation in July 2000," he said.

SDLP Assembly member Brid Rodgers also said the Drumcree problems could not be resolved by a quick fix deal, but would require dialogue between Orangemen and residents.

Sunday night's confrontation between the protesters and the police was little more than manoeuvering.

Individual protesters carried first a Union flag and then an Australian flag through the razor wire cordon and planted them on the last line of defence.

The Search for Peace
But the police ignored them and took no action when a smoke flare was fired into no man's land.

The skirmishes continued for several hours with stones and fireworks being thrown at RUC officers, who were protected by a phalanx of riot shields.

Shortly after 2200BST about 30 loyalists managed to infiltrate police lines near the Dungannon Road.

Taunted nationalists

They approached the graveyard of St John's Church and taunted nationalist residents.

When police officers and soldiers responded, the loyalist numbers grew to almost 200.

Police say one baton round was fired.

Last year saw violent protests lasting for days, but the numbers now protesting at the site are much lower than last year.

The Orange Order parade in Portadown is traditionally held a week before the 12 July anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, when an army led by the Protestant King William of Orange defeated Catholic forces.

It commemorates the sacrifice made by Northern Irishmen in the front line at the 1916 battle of the Somme.

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A-Z of Parliament
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Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland

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