Marching to a different drum

The Orange parade season is back - and so is the bitterness. Steve Boggan writes from Belfast
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The Independent Online
Rosaleen McManus dreads the 12th of July. The Orange marching bands that pass the end of her street remind her of her husband, Willie, and the day he was gunned down by loyalists. "I don't mind them marching," she said yesterday. "It's their culture. I just wish they wouldn't do it here."

Mrs McManus, 56, doesn't often talk about the day in 1992 when Willie was murdered, along with four others, in Sean Graham's bookmakers on the predominantly-Catholic Lower Ormeau Road. But yesterday was different.

Like hundreds of her neighbours, she was made a virtual prisoner in her home by a heavy-handed police operation. "They came at about 5.30am. Hundreds of them," she said. "They wouldn't let us on to the Ormeau Road - not even for a pint of milk. I asked if they could stop the Orange bands playing as a mark of respect for my husband, but I was just laughed at and grabbed by one officer who tried to put me in the back of a police van."

The object of the operation, involving hundreds of police officers and dozens of armoured jeeps, was to prevent Catholics blocking the bridge over the River Lagan that separates them from a Protestant area. In doing that, the way would be clear for about 150 Orangemen with four bands to march along the Lower Ormeau Road.

The method, however, resulted in a de facto curfew.

The community remained trapped until the sound of the marching bands drifted across the Lagan at 9am. By 9.38 the Orangemen were crossing the bridge and two minutes later, they were passing Sean Graham's bookmakers. Within seven minutes they had passed. By 10am, more than four hours after the police arrived, people were allowed to move freely. Some claimed they had been beaten when the RUC arrived.

"These were highly provocative tactics by the RUC," said Father Anthony Curran, a local parish priest. "To allow the Orangemen to march through the heart of a community like this, in an unmistakeable gesture of triumphalism, is desperately insensitive. It has seriously damaged community relations."

Within the hour, residents were staging a sit down protest, arguing that they did not want the marchers returning along the route after their rally ended later in the day.

Lines were drawn and protestors waited in the sunshine for the loyalists to return to cross the bridge. When finally they came, nine hours later, the Catholic contingent reacted first with silence, then with a rendition of "We shall overcome", and finally with applause and self-congratulation for the restraint they had shown.

"I do believe in the peace process," said one woman. "Everyone here does. But for it to work there has to be respect on both sides. You have to consider the other side's point of view, perhaps for the first time in your life.

"Today showed me that no one gives a damn about how we feel."