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Drumcree manifesting itself in tension-filled Whiterock parade

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

A 30ft high peaceline runs along the Springfield Road separating nationalists from their loyalist counterparts on the Shankill. Two peaceline gates, at Lanark Way and Workman Avenue, are the main means of crossing the political divide.

This morning police and British army personnel are preparing to mount the biggest and potentially most dangerous policing operation of the marching season.

However, the changing political geography of west Belfast has meant that the Whiterock parade has been a source of controversy since the beginning of the Troubles.

In June 1970 confrontations over the Whiterock parade led to some of the worst violence of the Troubles.

The violence began when an Orange band, led by around 300 loyalists, paraded past Catholic houses en route to Whiterock Orange Hall on the upper Springfield Road.

Rioting had already began before the parade entered Mayo Street and lasted for more than an hour before the British army arrived.

CS gas was used on a nationalist crowd which had taken over a floor in the nearby New Barnsley RUC station.

The violence spread quickly to other parts of the city, with six people killed across Belfast and 50 buildings destroyed or badly damaged.

The parade went ahead throughout the Troubles, but as more nationalists moved onto the Springfield Road the order's 'traditional' route came under increasing pressure.

Since 1998 dialogue between the two communities over the Whiterock parade has been praised as a potential blue print for other contentious marches.

In the last seven years nationalist and loyalist community workers, including former IRA, UVF and UDA prisoners, have been involved in the Springfield Intercommunity Development Project (SICDP).

The group has been praised as being largely responsible for ensuring that serious trouble has been averted along the sectarian interface in recent years.

But despite the progress that has been made over the last number of years the potential for serious disorder continues to bubble just below the surface.

In June 1993 UVF man Brian McCallum was fatally wounded during the Whiterock parade after a grenade he was about to throw exploded prematurely.

A hand gun found near his body was later found to have been used in the murder of a Catholic.

In 1998 there was serious violence between nationalists and the police after the march was allowed to go ahead along the Springfield Road.

In 2001 the parade ended in violence again after loyalists attacked nationalist protesters across the peaceline.

There was further violence with the police using water cannons against nationalists on the Springfield Road.

Despite the order's refusing to march through the disused Mackies site this year, Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Duncan McCausland yesterday (Friday) pointed out that the order had already set a precedent in 2001, when the parade's bands passed through the site.

In 2002 there was trouble again between nationalists and the police when the march was allowed to go ahead.

However, in 2003 community workers were praised for ensuring the quietest marching season in years.

But the uneasy relationship between the Orange Order and loyalist paramilitaries was never far away.

Ahead of the 2003 parade County Grand Master Dawson Bailie said: "With the Whiterock parade this Saturday and the July 12 celebrations still to come, involving Orangemen from Ligoniel, our fear now is that unless the PSNI acts to protect our members, less disciplined elements of the local unionist community may try and take the law into their own hands and there will be mayhem."

That relationship caused further anger among nationalists when it emerged that a bannerette commemorating UVF man Brian Robinson had been carried in the parade.

Robinson was shot dead by undercover soldiers in August 1989 minutes after he had murdered Catholic man Patrick McKenna in Ardoyne.

The fact that the bannerette had been carried by a member of the notorious Shankill Butcher gang further angered nationalists.

The UVF involvement led to the Parades Commission banning the parade from using Workman Avenue in June 2004.

However, following a week of loyalist street blockades the Parades Commission reversed the ban.

Nationalists were angered when it was revealed that DUP and Ulster Unionists politicians were sitting alongside the UVF and UDA on the North and West Belfast Parades Forum.

In June this year the Parades Commission banned the march from using Workman Avenue and ruled that it should use the nearby disused Mackies site to emerge onto Springfield Road.

The order refused to accept the decision and called-off the Whiterock Parade at the last minute, claiming that it feared potential loss of life if it was stopped from using Workman Avenue.

However, the order appeared split itself when it emerged that west Belfast orangemen had held secret talks with Springfield Road residents, in contravention of an order ban on talks with nationalist groups.

Despite public criticism from Orange Order Grand Master Robert Saulters, it was later claimed Mr Saulters and other senior orangemen had been fully aware of the talks.

While the order insisted that it would march its 'traditional' route at a future date, it came as something of a surprise when it announced that it wanted to parade along the Springfield Road on September 10, weeks after the traditional marching season had been completed.

Despite calls for the Whiterock parade to pass off peacefully, the Orange Order last night appeared in no mood for compromise.

In a statement, the Belfast County Grand Orange Lodge claimed that in spite of all the "risks" it had taken, orangemen were "faced with a further attempt to humiliate and suppress their culture".

It warned that nationalist and republicans would come to understand that "exercising a cultural veto", through what it described as "Parades Commission puppets", would not be allowed to continue "without consequences".

September 12, 2005

This article appeared first in the September 10, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

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