They say the plans, for roadblocks and other disruptions, are to be put into operation if next month's Drumcree Orange march is prevented from passing through the Catholic Garvaghy Road district of Portadown, Co. Armagh.
This raises the spectre of a re-run of last year's disastrous confrontation which began at Drumcree and spread to most parts of Northern Ireland, souring community relations and causing millions of pounds worth of damage. On that occasion the march was first ban- ned by the RUC but then allowed through in the face of widespread and escalating disorder.
The decision on whether or not the march is allowed through this year is to be taken by the Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, in conjunction with RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan. Dr Mowlam is organising a last- ditch effort to reach agreement between the Orange Order and Catholic residents with a proposal of "proximity talks" involving the two sides.
The idea is for the two sides to be brought together tomorrow under government auspices, with officials acting as go-betweens so that they need not meet face-to-face.
The most obvious sign of preparation for protests is in Belfast, where various Orange lodges have applied to stage scores of parades following the Drumcree march, scheduled for 6 July, and the climax of the marching season on 12 July.
Notification has been given of the intention to stage no fewer than 30 marches in north Belfast alone - an area which, as a patchwork quilt of Protestant, Catholic and mixed districts, contains numerous potential flashpoints which would require substantial police resources.
The preparations for protests include not just a wave of marches intended to swamp the police but also the blocking of key roads. Orange sources say that plans are being laid for protests at various levels of the organisation, which is said to have up to 50,000 members.Reuse content