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Community resolve forces Orange retreat

category armagh | rights, freedoms and repression | press release author Friday June 07, 2013 11:34author by Turing Report this post to the editors

Community resolve forces Orange retreat

Plans by the Orange Order to hold a controversial “prayer meeting” in a public park surrounded by nationalist homes in Portadown have been abandoned following a successful campaign by the local community. The park is located between the nationalist Obins Street and Garvaghy Road areas of the town from which Orange marches have been prohibited entering for many years.

Orange marches through Obins Street have been banned since 1986 and, in 1998, marches were also banned from the Garvaghy Road. Those marches led to virtual curfews being placed on the local community, resulted in widespread resistance, and ultimately led to the murders of at least twelve people by unionist paramilitaries.

In May, the unionist-dominated Craigavon Council granted permission for the Orange Order to hold a “prayer meeting” which was due to take place this Saturday evening (June 8th). Nationalists were only too aware of how the Orange Order abused a church service at Drumcree to wreak violence against the minority community in Portadown.

The Orange event was planned to take place on the same evening as the annual mini-Twelfth parade by the Orange Order in the nearby town centre. The Orange Order also announced that the starting point for the mini-Twelfth parade was being moved from Carleton Street to Wilson Street, less than 100 yards from the Garvaghy Road.

Unionist councillors sought to justify their backing for the Orange event on the grounds that it would lead to the development of “shared space” – completely ignoring the completely segregated nature of Portadown where nationalists form a 30 percent minority in the overwhelmingly unionist-dominated town.

The same councillors also totally ignored the lack of “shared space” for the nationalist minority within the town, not least within the town centre, completely bedecked all year round in Union flags and other symbols and where six catholics were variously shot dead or beaten to death by unionists. Many others were also viciously attacked by unionist gangs in the main commercial centre of the town, with a number of people maimed for life still needing hospital treatment years later.

Widespread unionist intimidation in Portadown during the 1970s left catholic families with no choice but to seek sanctuary in the Obins Street and Garvaghy Road areas.

In the Killicomaine area of the town, for example, scores of families fled their homes in fear after the local St Joseph’s catholic church was completely demolished by a bomb. This was followed some weeks later by a grenade attack on the parochial house in which the housekeeper was seriously injured. Similar fears and actual attacks, which included several murders, forced many other families to flee their homes in other parts of the town.

The nationalist community knew only too well from bitter and harsh experience what the potential outcome could be if several thousand Orangemen were to assemble in the park on the very doorsteps of dozens of nationalist homes.

The residents coalition embarked upon a strategy to oppose the bigot-fest in the park which involved the entire community. Several community groups based in Garvaghy Road/Obins Street area also agreed to weigh in to oppose the planned event. A local resident also volunteered to initiate legal proceedings to try and secure a court injunction preventing the Orange Order gaining access to the park.

Within the space of several days, over 2,600 adult residents in the area signed a petition opposing the Orange event.

A “private” PSNI meeting held in a council-owned community centre last week at which the PSNI had hoped to speak to elected representatives and five “invited community representatives” to discuss policing tactics for June 8th was gate-crashed by over thirty members of local community groups.

Only one of those “invited community representatives” actually turned up for the PSNI organized meeting.

The PSNI were bluntly told that not only was there complete opposition to the Orange Order event, there would be no question of the nationalist community accepting any form of clamp-down. The PSNI were also told that people intended to go to the park on June 8th and that there would be no cooperation with any policing operation. The PSNI were left dumb-founded.

On Tuesday, 28th May, members of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition met with the Parades Commission to voice their concerns over the new starting point for the mini-Twelfth parade. Those representations led to the Commission issuing a ruling prohibiting Orangemen and their supporters from assembling at Wilson Street or Castle Street.

At another meeting held in Craigavon Civic Centre on Wednesday 29th May, senior council officials, including the Chief Executive, were similarly left with no doubt regarding the views of the local nationalist community.

Twelve members of various community groups in the area made a joint submission outlining their opposition to the June 8th event and stated that the only way of mitigating any adverse impact of the Orange Order gathering was to withdraw permission for it to be held. The community representatives permitted the council officials to inspect the petition opposing the Orange event before leaving the Civic Centre.

Earlier that day, legal proceedings were initiated in behalf of a female resident in Belfast’s High Court and case papers were served on Craigavon Council, the PSNI and the Orange Order.

The following night, several hundred nationalist residents packed into the Garvaghy Road community centre at which various options, including the use of civil disobedience tactics, were discussed and agreed upon. Preparations were also put in place to look after those families living adjacent to the park in case the Orange gathering went ahead.

Focus then moved to the High Court at 9.30am on Friday morning (May 31st) where the application seeking leave to judicially review Craigavon Council’s decision granting the Orange order use of the park got underway.

After around one hour of legal arguments, the judge granted leave and announced that, due to the urgency of the case, he would hear the full case on Monday. He also stated that the legal team representing the nationalist resident had made a very strong and arguable case.

Less than a half an hour after that decision, the Orange Order dramatically announced that it was cancelling the planned event.

It is clear that the nationalist community in Portadown, by demonstrating complete unity of purpose and by pursuing several different avenues of approach as part of a single strategy, had forced the Orange Order to retreat.

Unionists on Craigavon Council have already stated that they will now attempt to halt up to 5 million pounds of European funding allocated by the SEUPB for the redevelopment of the park as a modern recreational facility.

Given the determination and single-minded approach shown by the nationalist community in Portadown, that is likely to be another battle from which unionists will also be forced to retreat.

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