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I want to focus on what I think most people regard as a major problem that we need to resolve urgently: the sense of crisis that surrounds the annual Drumcree Parish Church service attended by the Portadown District of the Orange Order, which is scheduled for Sunday and which has been — wrongly, in my view — made subject to restrictions by the Parades Commission.
The Agreement that we are here to try to implement contains many references to questions of culture and identity — the ethos of the communities — and of rights. It is a serious mistake for the Parades Commission to be engaged in what I regard as a massive assault on the civil rights of an important section of the community. This runs counter to their ethos, heritage and culture.
It is a well-known fact that the Orange service at Drumcree was first held in 1807. Indeed, it may have started a year or two earlier. Within a decade or so of the creation of the order the then rector of Drumcree parish invited Portadown Orangemen to his church.
At that time this was the parish church for Portadown. St Mark’s in the middle of the town, was established later. The two parish churches in the area at that time were Drumcree and Seagoe. Since then the Orangemen of Drumcree district have gone each July to both.
Over the years there has been some variation in the route from the town centre to Drumcree, but either the outward or the return march — indeed, sometimes both — has been along the Garvaghy Road, and until comparatively recently the route has been entirely uncontroversial. These are well-known facts that should not need to be restated.
In proceeding along the Garvaghy Road the Orangemen are not invading someone else’s territory. They are not going through housing estates but are walking on a main road. It is a very broad carriageway which is the most direct route from the church to the town centre. The habit of the Orangemen has been to take the long way out and the short way home — entirely reasonable.
This is a parade to a church service — not an ordinary Orange walk. There are no banners — simply one Union flag and the bannerettes of the district and of the Portadown ex-servicemen’s lodge. The music is provided only by accordion bands, whose members are predominantly female. It is a sober and restrained exercise which is very much a part of the culture and tradition of the order. Those who have a direct connection with it are the religious elements of the organisation and other people attending divine service.
The Garvaghy Road parade ought not to be a matter of controversy. In any other society such an event would be regarded as something perfectly normal to which no reasonable person could take exception.
Unfortunately in recent years the opposition has been not just organised but accompanied by the threat of violence and, indeed, actual force. The highway has been blocked. We are dealing here with people trying to deny others their legitimate rights. The only way to maintain the rule of law is to remove the lawbreakers who are blocking the highway. Citizens must be enabled to exercise their rights in a reasonable manner.
Unfortunately, owing to the perversion of thought that has affected the Parades Commission and too many other people, the authorities, instead of responding to the breach of the rule of law in the only sensible and reasonable way, decided to punish the innocent. Such a decision was first taken in 1995, and the same thing happened on two other occasions. Responding in this way leads to the conclusion that the threat of force pays, and threat becomes a numbers game. Thus we have the danger of riots or disturbances.
What is happening with regard to the Garvaghy Road and other places leads members of the Orange Order and many other reasonable people to believe that they are faced with a concerted campaign to deny them reasonable expression of their rights. But recently Orangemen and others have said "This is enough. Here we must draw the line."
When people become entrenched, there is a danger that things will get out of hand, as was shown in 1995 and 1996. In 1997 there was a better, though not trouble-free, outcome. I hoped that even the Parades Commission was capable of coming to the simple conclusion that what happened in 1997 was preferable to the events of 1996. Instead, we have been pitched into a dangerous situation where confrontation looms.
I sincerely hope that confrontation can be avoided. If that is to be the case, those who are threatening, and who have in the recent past threatened, to block the Garvaghy Road must allow a responsible, reasonable, peaceful procession. Let them protest, but peacefully. Actually it would be better for them to do whatever people usually do between 12.30 pm and 1.00 pm on a Sunday. There is no reason for anyone to feel offended or to resort to violence.
In the hope of such an outcome, I addressed an open communication to those elements on the Garvaghy Road who, in my view, are causing the problem. I said that they should do their bit to deliver the peace that society wants, rather than bring about confrontation.
They should realise that in the summer of 1997 many dangers to the community were averted because the Orange Order voluntarily re-routed some parades to defuse tension. The Institution believes that, having behaved in a very reasonable, generous and responsible way, it has been let down by the Government. The failure of other elements in society to respond has also caused bitterness.
It would be entirely appropriate for Nationalists and anyone else who has influence on the Garvaghy Road to urge the residents to make a generous response to the Institution’s behaviour last year. A similar spirit of generosity could prevent conflict.
I hope that we will manage to resolve these matters. I hope that, whatever happens, people will behave peacefully at all times. But, above all, I hope that we can put an end to this entire issue. It seems to me that the events of recent years are a symptom of the conflict in society as a whole.
Those who have waged what they call a war against the rest of society over the last 25 to 30 years need to make it clear the war is over and that the fomenting of trouble as a means of prosecuting the conflict will be abandoned. I hope that the conflict between elements of the community in Portadown, the war that some people — some people — on the Garvaghy Road are waging against the rest of the town, will also end.
It is symbolic that those elements on the Garvaghy Road elected as their spokesman a person who has a terrorist conviction in connection with the bombing of the British Legion hall in Portadown. That is an indication of the way in which they were waging a war against the rest of the community there. I hope they will realise that it is appropriate to stop. Then we can tackle the problems in the town, particularly with regard to community relations, which have deteriorated seriously as a result of the conflict in recent years. That is what the focus should be on. If there is to be an improvement those who have prosecuted this conflict must call it off.
We must have a peaceful resolution which recognises the rights of Portadown Orangemen to walk home from church by the most direct route. I hope that the threatened conflict will be averted, for I have the gravest forebodings about what will happen in Northern Ireland otherwise.
Parading in Northern Ireland has a long history of conflict. Traditionally the Loyal Orders have been allowed — indeed, expected — to parade in all areas, whether Nationalist or Unionist and whether town centres or otherwise, whereas Nationalist parades have always been confined to Nationalist areas. The inequality is the reason for the conflict. But Nationalists are no longer prepared to accept unequal treatment, and the situation in Portadown could be seen as the blueprint.
Let me deal very briefly with the background to the conflict. For years the Loyal Orders paraded through the Tunnel/Obins Street area — Obins Street, which is very narrow, is 99% Nationalist — four times on the Twelfth and four times on the Thirteenth, and there was one parade on the Garvaghy Road (the church parade). Nationalists bitterly resented the fact that on the evening before the Twelfth they had to move their cars from outside their own doors into side streets. For the whole of the morning of the Twelfth and most of the rest of that day they were confined in the side streets, with a huge police presence to ensure that the Loyal Orders’ parades could go through without let or hindrance. [Interruption]
I thought that the best way to deal with the situation would be to give the Nationalist community in Portadown the same rights — to allow Nationalists to finish what was a circular route from Garvaghy to the Tunnel and then proceed along Park Road. Permission was granted, but on the morning of St Patrick’s Day in 1984 the participants were stopped by groups of people who gathered in the centre of the road with cudgels and stones. These people said that the parade would be blocked as there were Unionists living in the Park Road area.
On that day the police told St Patrick’s Band — an innocuous band not displaying a Tricolour or other emblem of any description, apart from a banner depicting St Patrick — that it could not go through. They said "We cannot put you through, for there will be a breach of the peace." The threat of violence was used to prevent Nationalists from doing in that area what the Loyal Orders had been doing for years in Nationalist areas.
I will not give way.
It was very clear that in Portadown there was one law for one section of the community and another law for the other. As that was intolerable the Loyal Order parades through the Tunnel area were stopped — and rightly so. [Interruption]
Let me correct the assertion that the number of Loyalist parades in Portadown has been reduced to one. There is a significant number of other Loyal Order marches, but they do not seem to count. We are told all the time that there used to be 10 parades and now there is one. Ten went through the very small Nationalist enclave. The others continue to go through the rest of Portadown. The fact that they do not seem to count sends a clear message to the Nationalist people. [Interruption]
What is the purpose of insisting on going through a Nationalist area when there is a perfectly viable alternative? For instance, why return from church by the Garvaghy Road when the outward route could be used? Why is there no sense of proportion? Nobody is preventing the Loyal Orders from returning from church. They are simply being asked to go back the way they came or to talk to the people who live in that small Nationalist area. They should recognise that this is a conflict of rights — the right of freedom of assembly and the right of a community to live in peace.
And it is not just a matter of the 10-minute march; there is the evening before, as well as the Sunday morning.
There has been no threat of violence. There were threats of violence in 1996, but they did not come from the Nationalist community. There were similar threats in 1997, but they did not come from the Nationalist community, as was confirmed by the Chief Constable, who said that they amounted to subversion of the state.
The point is made that the Garvaghy Road is a public highway. In that case, how is it that Nationalists are not free to go into the centre of Portadown? A young man called Robert Hamill was kicked to death in the centre of the town on his way home from an innocent leisure activity. A young man called Adrian Lamph, who was going about his work, was shot dead because he was in a part of the town that is not thought of as Nationalist.
For members of the Nationalist community the Garvaghy Road is the centre of Portadown. It is the only place where they can socialise and are not afraid to go out of their own doors. It is very much a Nationalist area.
The only way in which this conflict of rights can be resolved is through dialogue. Rights are not absolute; one must respect the rights of others. In the last two years people have insisted on imposing a march on a small Nationalist part of Portadown. The wishes and views of residents have been ignored.
The Parades Commission has made a determination. In my view, it is the correct determination, but it was not necessary, for dialogue, I am quite certain, could have led to accommodation. The people who live in the Nationalist Garvaghy Road area want nothing more and nothing less than to be treated with the same respect as the rest of the community. They want their rights to be recognised and respected. They want dialogue with the Loyal Orders and with the Unionist community so that they can explain how they feel and find out how others feel. They want an accommodation, but they cannot compromise with people who simply will not listen to them.
The ideal way to resolve any conflict is through dialogue. I wish we could have the same spirit in Portadown as we had in the talks in Castle Buildings, where people with very different views and very strong feelings entered into dialogue. An accommodation was reached without sacrifice of principle or change in fundamental identity on either side. [Interruption]
That could have been the template for Portadown: people coming together, learning to build understanding, creating a new situation and reaching an accommodation. But it did not happen, and the Parades Commission could only apply its own guidelines in making its determination. About 10 days ago the Chief Constable made it clear that he would implement whatever decision was reached.
We are now in a situation with very serious implications, not just for the communities in Portadown but for the whole of Northern Ireland. I therefore appeal — even at this late stage — to those people in Portadown who refuse to recognise that this is a conflict of two rights, whose resolution requires dialogue, to accept that people’s views must be respected and that understanding must be built.
Nothing is impossible between people of goodwill, and I know that the Nationalist community in Portadown — I have just had a resounding endorsement from them — want an accommodation. But it must be an accommodation which gives them rights equal to those of the Loyalist and Unionist community. At this late stage I appeal for dialogue.
I am glad that we are having this debate, for the Assembly is the place to discuss such matters. It was completely wrong for some parties to make the case through the press that Drumcree is not a matter for this forum. The Assembly will be useless if it does not deal head-on with matters of conflict.
Ms Rodgers will not convince anybody that the people she has been defending tonight never engaged in violence. Who attacked the half dozen or so junior Orangemen? We are told that Roman Catholics or Nationalists or Republicans cannot go into Portadown. In fact, they can go in and blow it to pieces.
Let us get the facts. This is not an Orange service; it is a parish church service to which Orangemen are invited. There are distinctly Orange services for which the use of a church is requested and at which an Orange chaplain preaches. The Drumcree arrangement has been in force for nearly 200 years.
The Agreement refers to
"rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity".
That includes the right to freedom and expression of religion. These Orangemen have expressed their religious beliefs. They have gone to and returned from that church. Mr Adams, who is a Member of the Assembly, told us that this matter had been worked on for a very long time and that people would not let go. He told us that we would have more of what we have had. This is a well-orchestrated Republican attack upon a Protestant community expressing their religious convictions and going to their place of worship.
Ms Rodgers’s talk about Nationalists not being allowed to walk in Protestant areas is nonsense. If she knew anything about North Antrim or County Londonderry she would know that Hibernian parades go through Protestant areas, as they have for a very long time. Nothing is said because these are traditional parades. What people have been doing for many years should be permitted to continue.
Southern Irish politicians started to interfere in Ulster’s affairs by attacking the Public Order Act because of the safeguards it provided for traditional parades. The provisions were removed, and almost every Unionist Member of Parliament who made a protest was taken to court and given a prison sentence. We served the sentences to expose legislation whose purpose was to destroy religious freedom.
Anybody who does not want to see people coming down from the church service does not have to be there. Those who object block the road, but the authorities treat the Orangemen as lawbreakers. That lies at the heart of this conflict. Mr McKenna, who is, I understand, a convicted terrorist, tells us that until Orangemen talk to him they will not be permitted to walk along the Queen’s highway.
I have heard it said over and over again in the media that the Orangemen want to walk through a Roman Catholic housing estate. Ms Rodgers knows very well that this is a main road into a Protestant town. Anyone listening to her would think that Portadown was not a Protestant town, that the Nationalists had a right to take it over. Tonight the Orangemen and the Protestant people of Northern Ireland have been maligned. It has been said that Orangemen want to walk through Roman Catholic housing estates. The parade in question comes down a main road into the Protestant capital of County Armagh — which is what Portadown is.
As for the Parades Commission, I asked many young people if they knew the expression "Croppies lie down." None of them did. It occurs in ‘The Oul’ Orange Flute’, but today not many people know the words of that song. The Parades Commission lies when it says that Portadown has a "Croppies lie down" environment.
The Protestants of Portadown are decent people who live well with their Roman Catholic neighbours. Everybody knows that. Let Ms Rodgers tell us who regularly attacks the Protestants at the bottom of the Garvaghy Road. Are the attackers some strangers from darkest Africa? No.
The people of this country will never tolerate a situation in which they cannot exercise their rights without going to a convicted terrorist and asking if they may talk with him. The law should treat us all equally. Several Members present, including Mr Adams, had open-air gospel meetings banned by the police to enable parades to take place in the centre of Belfast. Followers of the Member desecrated the statue of Queen Victoria, hung tricolours all around the place, and wanted to put a fake bomb on the dome of the city hall. And we are supposed to give in to all this.
The time has come to accept that people should be allowed to proceed to and from their church as they have done for 200 years.
Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. Tá áthas orm a bheith anseo agus a labhairt do na daoine anseo ar son Sinn Féin. I am making this submission on behalf of Sinn Fein.
Like David Trimble, who, unfortunately, is not here, I represent Upper Bann. I appeal to Mr Trimble as MP and an Assembly Member for the area, as well as a leading Orangeman associated with the march at Drumcree. But in particular I appeal to him as the First Minister (Designate) of the North of Ireland. He represents all the people of the North, and I ask him to act speedily to defuse the situation this weekend.
The majority of people on this island voted in the referenda for accommodation and consensus as a way of solving our many problems. Accommodation and consensus can be reached only by dialogue. As an advocate of the Agreement Mr Trimble has a duty to meet the residents of the Garvaghy Road.
I call on the First Minister (Designate) to encourage the Orange Order to voluntarily re-route its parade. There is an alternative. The residents of the Garvaghy Road have been subjected to violence and intimidation. Their community is under siege. They are prevented from going about their lawful business. Much has been made of the fact that the Orange parade is from a church service. Let it be remembered that residents of the Garvaghy Road were prevented from going to their church service last year because of the Orange parade.
The Good Friday Agreement affirms the right to freedom from sectarian harassment. That should include the residents of the Garvaghy Road. I was glad to hear Mr Trimble and Dr Paisley refer to issues such as the rule of law. Mr Trimble mentioned the removal of blockages that prevent people from going about their business. I agree totally with what he said. The Orange Order and the Unionist leadership need to make it clear that this weekend there will be no blockades, that people throughout this state will have freedom of movement.
Incidentally, it was reported in the media today that the picket at Harryville Catholic Church is to begin again this weekend. If so, it is a disgrace.
Much has been made of the fact that the Portadown Orangemen will be going to a church service at Drumcree. It should be remembered that the founder of the Christian church to which so many people here pledge allegiance said that you should love not only your neighbour but also your enemy. Surely people who go to church services should at least talk to their neighbours. Gerry Adams has put it on public record that he is prepared to go anywhere at any time to meet anyone for the purpose of ensuring that the marching months will be quiet and peaceful. He has also said that the residents of the Garvaghy Road and other areas, such as the Ormeau Road, should not be put under any pressure.
Finally, on behalf of Sinn Fein, I call on all citizens in the Six Counties to be calm and to exercise restraint this weekend and in the days and months ahead.
Go raibh maith agat.
I was not going to intervene, for I know that women Members are quite capable of stating their positions. However, when some male Members hear women talking sense they behave like ill-mannered pups. You, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, should rule on this. I thought Ms Rodgers was treated disgracefully by some Members. [Interruption]
It is important that we treat each other with the greatest respect. However, this is a political forum, and from time to time there will be some toing and froing. But it would be particularly invidious if female Members were treated less well than their male counterparts. Of course, the same applies in reverse, but at present the risk seems very small.
We are ending today’s business with a rather sad debate which reflects the tension outside the Chamber — rather sad because it comes at the end of a day on which we have made considerable progress with the task that we were set. It is desirable that difficulties over parades should be settled through local accommodation.
In recent years there has not been local agreement, which is why we have the Parades Commission to impose decisions. What else could we expect?
In some places the situation is different from that at Drumcree, where there appears to be no genuine attempt at negotiation. The megaphone diplomacy that is being indulged in by some Members following the decision by the Parades Commission is no substitute.
Those sections of the Orange Order and the other Loyal Orders that have sought accommodation, as well as those who have assisted through civil or church positions, deserve credit. For instance, a band parade in Crumlin, which is in my constituency, was cancelled in order to lower tension. I welcome that genuine demonstration of good faith. And genuine efforts are being made to find a solution to difficulties over the 13 July parade. It is regrettable that just after the Crumlin parade had been called off, others attempted to whip up hysteria by distributing leaflets alleging that there would be curfews and by nailing tricolours to telegraph poles on the main street.
By the same token, the suggestion that the picket of Our Lady’s Church in Harryville should be resumed is utterly reprehensible. There never was any connection between Dunloy and Harryville. There never was any attempt to prevent ordinary worshippers from proceeding to Dunloy Presbyterian Church. There should never have been a Harryville picket, and the suggestion that it should be resumed because of events not 15 miles away but 40 miles away is utterly disgusting.
The Orange Order has shown in some areas that it is prepared to be positive and to seek an accommodation, and it deserves credit for that. Residents’ groups in some areas have made similar efforts.
Today some people sought to reach an accommodation in this Chamber. We all have a responsibility to do the same outside. Backbiting and recrimination such as we have seen during the last half hour should not be encouraged.
I take the view that all parades that are essentially lawful and not in themselves provocative should be allowed to proceed. That applies to Orange parades in areas with a preponderance of Nationalists and to Ancient Order of Hibernians parades in areas which are predominantly Protestant.
The right of public process, which is enshrined in every Western democracy and is embedded in many Constitutions, is based upon the principle that, provided that a parade is itself lawful, is for a lawful purpose and is not conducted in a provocative way likely to cause difficulty or to insult people of a different religion or race, it should be allowed to proceed. Unfortunately, in the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order of 1987 the Government went against that concept and introduced the principle that if a parade were likely to cause significant public disorder it could be banned.
This change in the law provided a protestors’ charter: if you can engage, excite and agitate a number of protestors sufficiently large to give rise to a substantial risk of public disorder between them and people parading lawfully the authorities have to decide whether that risk is greater or smaller than the risk of disorder as a result of the parade’s being banned. In making this fundamental change to a principle so well established in every Constitution the Government of the day made a basic error which has given rise to much of the difficulty in which we now find ourselves.
It was not very long before those engaged in civil disturbance and those engaged in active terrorism — bombing, murder, mayhem, pillage — realised that this had the potential to increase civil disturbance. Indeed, when it became apparent that it might be necessary, for political purposes, for certain violent Republican elements to cease their overt terrorism — bombing and shooting — while there was what was called a complete cessation of military activities against the security forces, they opened a second front, which could be employed to create civil agitation and to keep the two communities at each other’s throats. So much for the formal cease-fire that was said to be in operation.
It was against that background that Mr Adams stated on Telefis Eireann that the disturbances on the Garvaghy Road, in Derry and on the lower Ormeau Road were not just spontaneous expressions of oppression by the people in those areas. Mr Adams told the viewers that those disturbances were the result of years of work by Sinn Fein activists, and it is not surprising that post-1994, when the IRA and Sinn Fein entered into some kind of formal cease-fire, there was a vast increase in the amount of civil disturbance and inter-communal hatred. It was in 1994, 1995 and 1996 that Republican Sinn Fein upped the ante in all these areas of its second front.
The central figure in each area of conflict — one thinks of the gentleman on the Garvaghy Road and of Mr Rice in the lower Ormeau — has a well-documented record of terrorist activity. Indeed, the gentleman in Portadown, as the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has pointed out, has a record of involvement in blowing up the British Legion hall. So what we are seeing is not, as Ms Rodgers would have us believe, a spontaneous revolt by the people of the Garvaghy Road against oppressors.
I am not an Orangeman, but some of the most decent men I have ever met are members of the Loyal Order. When I see gentlemen — most of them elderly — parading down that road for 15 minutes I find it very difficult to believe that they are going to turn into rabid Protestant bigots attacking the residents.
If members of the Parades Commission had bothered on any other Sunday of the year to go to the Garvaghy Road at the time of the homeward parade they might have found it difficult to come across any pedestrians at all. Many of the houses are set back from the road, with only the gable walls facing it. Ms Rodgers said that people were cooped up in their homes from the night before the parade. But that is because it is now established practice that violent people bring out their stores of stones, petrol bombs and all sorts of other equipment.
No one has told us why a couple of dozen juveniles — boys up to the age of 12 — were violently attacked. We have not been told why on the Springfield Road, a week past on Saturday, there were scenes of violent protest about a parade which could not be seen. The march was taking place more than half a mile away, and the accompanying music could barely be heard.
We have entered a phase in which people are demonstrating triumphalism of the worst kind. Witness the Garvaghy Road. People are being forced to seek the permission of convicted ex-terrorists to do what they have been doing peacefully for many years.
Were it not for Mr Adams’s activists, a solution to the problem between those who reside on the Garvaghy Road and the Orangemen could have been found long ago. Indeed, there are people in the lower Ormeau, like Mr McKenna, who have circulated many residents and found that a large number of them would have no objection to a parade provided that it was lawful, lawfully conducted and not provocative and that it did not cause insult or indignity for those living in the area.
People should not have to suffer insults or indignity. They should not be subjected to provocative music that they find offensive. But, as one who believes in a pluralist and constitutional state, I say that they have absolutely no right to claim that an area they regard as theirs should be prohibited to others conducting themselves in a lawful and non-provocative way.
That is the essence of pluralism, and it is what violent Republicanism is determined to deny the Orangemen in the case of the Garvaghy Road. The Parades Commission’s decision could easily have been foreseen. It was based on weakness and on unwillingness to uphold the rule of law. Sinn Fein’s presence in this building and its goodwill are necessary for the resolution of conflict between Sinn Fein/IRA and the British state. The purpose is not to protect us but to protect the city of London.
This is undoubtedly a difficult subject, and I would like to address many of my comments to Sinn Fein. What they have heard from the leaders of Unionism — much as they may dislike those people — is an extremely accurate description of the feelings in the Unionist community, and it would be ridiculous for me to add to or take away from it.
I thought that the Agreement was about creating peaceful coexistence. Surely that is why we are here. Sinn Fein would say that they have had a long, hard struggle to get to here, and there are theorists who created the micro to match the macro. The micro was the parades issue — the search for legitimacy — but what was created was a no-lose situation from a Unionist perspective. Let me give names: Mr Breandan MacCionnaith, Mr Dominic MacNiallais and Mr Gerard Rice, all of whom have convictions for Republican violence. Sinn Fein knew exactly what the reaction of the Unionist community would be. They find strategies very easy. They can often tell exactly what our reaction will be.
The Unionist community refused to talk, and that copper-fastened the attitude of the ordinary Catholic, whom Sinn Fein were able to manipulate by saying "We told you these people would never give us a place in the sun." That is the game that was being played.
Is the micro to match the macro? The macro is the negotiation process which at an earlier stage Sinn Fein could not enter, though they now find themselves here trying to manage an extremely difficult situation.
We have not provided conflict resolution. This is a process of conflict transformation — transformation from violence to politics — about which, as has been pointed out several times today, I know a fair bit. Indeed, there are other such people on this side of the Chamber and maybe, as was suggested earlier, a few who were never captured. The important thing is that there are people struggling — genuinely struggling — to create a situation which is better for our children and our children’s children.
Let us assume that I am wrong, that I can be kind to Sinn Féin by accepting that all of this is merely a perception. I do not believe that, having looked at the bigger picture, they are showing any commitment to defusing the situation. The larger picture is undoubtedly what we need to have in front of us. If we allow destabilisation to occur, it will be much more difficult to cope in the months ahead.
I therefore encourage Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and whatever elements of Unionism can manage to do it to enter dialogue, to explain to people that the bigger picture is vitally important. Sinn Fein may ask "Would the Orangemen not understand the bigger picture?" Alas the perception again is of destabilisation. It did not begin where Mr McCartney suggested; it began with Mr Adams talking about angry voices and marching feet and a long, hot summer.
We have had difficulties over parades before. In 1963, when I was only 10 years old, I got clouted heavily when the Stormont Government re-routed a parade. Did we forget that? The issue has been around for a long time. From a Unionist perspective — like it or loathe it — I have to say that you may believe in this Agreement and think that it can achieve reasonable co-existence (whether or not people are right-wingers or fools who say "Step ye from among them and touch not the unclean") but you must accept that it cannot work without us.
It is very clear from the election of a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister that we recognise the interdependence of the two traditions. I appeal to Sinn Fein to ask people to make what they might perceive to be a sacrifice so that we can concentrate on the bigger picture. The people of Portadown feel pain with regard to Mr MacCionnaith. He may be out of control, and Sinn Fein, in putting such people up to argue the toss about legitimacy, may well have created little monsters.
Let someone show me that that perception is wrong. I need to be able to go to my very volatile community, especially when it feels that there is an attempt to subjugate its culture and endanger peaceful coexistence. Subjugation can play no part. Indeed, in a divided society — a zero-sum society, a "them and us" society — subjugation must not play any part, for that would create an explosive situation, which would put us in deep trouble.
Some Members have made it much easier for me to directly engage Mr Adams. I used to get into trouble for it, but the fact that most other Members have directly engaged him has broken ground that I can now walk on. I ask Mr Adams to take serious cognisance of the fears and difficulties of the Unionist community. Unionists feel that they are being subjugated and destabilised. Some efforts ought to be made to get us through next week for the sake of our children and our children’s children. We must look at the big picture.
This debate, in which such a wide variety of views have been expressed, has been very valuable. The Women’s Coalition, like every other party, accepts the right to march, but, as other Members have said, rights must be exercised responsibly. We must take account of how such expression impacts on others. That is the essence of this issue.
The Women’s Coalition has always said that where two sets of rights are in conflict the only appropriate course is dialogue with a view to reaching an accommodation. That is what has been happening in this debate. We will continue to do all we can to promote dialogue. In the absence of an accommodation it is unfortunately necessary for an outside body to adjudicate. We call on everyone to abide by the adjudication of the Parades Commission. It is absolutely unacceptable for any group to use the threat of civil unrest to get its own way.
It is also very important to put this parade in context: we are not talking about preventing Orangemen from marching or about undermining their identity. Furthermore, the Orangemen will not be prevented from reaching their service. There will be more than 700 marches this year. The Parades Commission has had to adjudicate on only seven of these and has not re-routed in every case. We do not want to see another summer in which people have to flee the country, with planes leaving Belfast full, and planes returning empty. This is the holiday season when we should be attracting tourists. It is entirely wrong to hold Northern Ireland to ransom.
We understand that there are difficulties and challenges on both sides, but we believe that it is unacceptable for any group to impede the democratic process, particularly the Agreement, which was endorsed by the vast majority and which enshrines the principle of consent.
We urge all those in positions of influence to use their influence constructively to secure the political leadership needed to reach an accommodation on this crucial issue. For its part, the Women’s Coalition will continue to do whatever it can to promote dialogue and to support positive leadership.
As one who did not take part in the talks process, I have a question for all those Members who have been involved for the last two years. How often during that period did they consider the parades issue? Whether they like it or not, it is an integral part of life in Northern Ireland. They need not, like Pilate, wash their hands.
This is a very important occasion, for the Assembly brings renewed hope of a return to democracy. Accommodation, not segregation, is the way forward if we are to have permanent peace and stability. I agree with Mr Trimble’s comments about the background to the Portadown parades. Orangemen go to Drumcree church to commemorate the Battle of the Somme — whose eighty-second anniversary we celebrate today — in which people from all communities throughout these islands gave their lives for our liberty.
I am one of those who spent most of last year going round these islands and further afield trying to resolve the situation in Portadown, so I speak with some authority. It is very disappointing that the discredited Government quango reversed the decision of last year. The officers and brethren of Portadown district return from Drumcree church peacefully and in a dignified manner along the Garvaghy Road. Let me quote the ‘Daily Mail’ of 7 July:
"Down the middle of the road, silently and without looking left or right, walked the Orangemen of Portadown District. They neither swaggered nor strutted. From behind the Land Rovers, police and soldiers lining the road came screams of ‘Orange Bastards!’. from men, women and small children."
And here is an extract from the ‘Daily Express’ of 8 July:
"The Drumcree Orangemen were right to march down the Garvaghy Road, and cannot be blamed for the malicious violence and well planned vandalism which followed their modest and peaceful parade."
I am one of those who last year sent a letter to the residents of the road. It was interesting to receive many replies indicating that people were happy to allow the brethren to march. That should not be forgotten. If any Member wants to see copies I will be more than happy to provide them.
Yes, minus the addresses.
When the go-ahead was given, what happened? Republicans launched a well-planned, well-orchestrated orgy of destruction, violence and hatred, not only along the route of the parade but throughout the province. The Orange brethren paraded silently and with great dignity. It is interesting that people had to leave their Sunday lunch. On any other Sunday at the same time there are very few people about. The court cases revealed that people had to travel a fair distance to be offended.
Churchill Park contains approximately 200 houses, only five of which face the Garvaghy Road; in the Beeches estate there are about 100 houses, only five of which face the road; Garvaghy Park contains approximately 100 houses, only 10 of which face the road; Ballyoran Park has about 500 houses, of which only 46 face the Garvaghy or Drumcree Road.
Why has this happened? It started in 1972, on 12 July, when a brother Orangeman was shot dead on the road. Since then there has been intimidation and pillage. I know of a Protestant gentleman who used to take Catholic children to school every morning. One evening he was told "We have made alternative arrangements for tomorrow." The following morning, when he switched on the ignition, the car blew up, and he was killed. But these things are forgotten. And now there are at least 50 Irish tricolours right down towards the Protestant part of the road.
Last year a person who is now a Member of the Assembly said "Ask any activist in the North ‘Did Drumcree happen by accident?’ and he will say ‘No.’." The opposition to Orange parades has clearly been manipulated by Sinn Fein/IRA — through intimidation, I suggest. It is clear that the Republican community is intolerant of all things British and will continue to strive for cultural apartheid. That did not work in South Africa, and it will not work here.
Here is what a resident wrote to the ‘Portadown Times’ on 12 July last:
"When I recall the violence of the past few years I ask myself what has been achieved? Has our community in the Garvaghy Road gained anything? Have we shown people of a different faith that we wish them to continue living in our community without fear?"
This is the kind of response we have been getting from people on the road. What has changed since 6 July last year? The Orange Institution made a magnanimous gesture, wrong-footing Sinn Fein/IRA, on 10 July when it re-routed four parades. What recognition did it get? Everybody talked about the moral high ground, but the Government imposed draconian legislation on us.
It should not be forgotten that five weeks ago some 160 petrol bombs and six shrapnel bombs were used against junior Orangemen — boys aged between six and 11 peacefully celebrating their culture. And within the last few weeks another 16 crates of milk bottles have been found. It will hardly surprise anyone to hear that they were not going to be refilled with milk. It seems that some residents of the Garvaghy Road are determined to cause trouble come what may.
As the county grand master of Armagh, who four weeks ago had no intention of being involved in politics, I want to say that people should make no mistake about the Portadown brethren. They are prepared to stand one day, 31 days, 365 days, or as long as it takes for their basic civil and religious liberty to be upheld. There were 10 parades on that road, nine of which have been given up voluntarily. We have only one parade now, and the brethren are not prepared to be suppressed any further. What is happening is wrong. Orangemen feel that the only cry coming from the road is that there will be no Orange feet on it.
Contrary to what some people have been telling Members, work went on behind the scenes last year and this year. Indeed, it continues. I am one of those who travelled to the carpet mills in 1996. One of the things on offer then was recognition of rights of both communities, including the right to hold St Patrick’s Day parades. But the Nationalist people of the road did not want to know.
I repeat that accommodation, not segregation, is the way forward. In this era of tolerance and mutual respect I appeal to the residents of Garvaghy Road to show tolerance. Members who have influence in the Nationalist community should use it wisely.
Finally, I appeal to the Government to overturn this iniquitous decision.