The Ulster gamble that failed

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The Independent Online
The Government planned to allow the controversial Drumcree march to go ahead in return for concessions from the Orange Order which they failed to secure, according to a confidential Northern Ireland Office document.

It reveals that almost three weeks ago ministers and security chiefs had concluded that, with no local accommodation in sight, a controlled parade on Portadown's Garvaghy Road was "the least worst outcome".

Drawn up by the NIO's associate director for policing and security and marked confidential, the document declared that there was a consensus among Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ronnie Flanagan, the Royal Ulster Constabulary's Chief Constable, the Army and the Northern Ireland Parades Commission.

Last night, the post-Drumcree disturbances claimed their first life when a man died in south Belfast following a small explosion near the Seymour Hill housing estate. Security sources said they were working on the theory that he had died accidentally when a loyalist bomb went off.

The repercussions of the decision to push the parade through continued to be seen on the streets of Belfast and elsewhere yesterday, as widespread disturbances continued in dozens of republican districts.

By last night, 57 civilians and 46 police officers had been injured in rioting and shooting incidents which involved both the IRA and the smaller Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). Dozens of vehicles were hijacked and burnt, with police advising motorists to keep out of large areas of Northern Ireland.

The financial cost is only just beginning to be assessed, but there will be a multi-million pound bill. The public transport company Translink said damage to trains and buses alone was already more than pounds 9m.

Curiously, the lengthy document makes no mention of RUC intelligence that loyalist terrorists were intent on killing Catholics in the event of a ban on the parade. The Chief Constable leant heavily on the argument that one of his central motivations in pushing the parade through was to save Catholic lives in the light of intelligence assessments of loyalist intentions.

The document, dated 20 June, was endorsed by John Steele, the NIO director of security, who described it as "the gameplan" and stated: "I am sure this is the only way open to us that has any chance of success."

The Government approach was based on a judgement that no local agreement with the Orange Order would emerge. It set out that the hope that the Government "might with luck establish that all sides are in the territory of finding the lowest common denominator for getting some Orange feet on the Garvaghy Road".

A "main menu" of possible adjustments to the march to make it more acceptable to Catholic residents included a reduction in numbers, the absence of any bands from the parade, an earlier and hopefully less disruptive time for the march, and the removal of regalia such as swords, flags and banners which residents objected to.

It also hoped that the Orange Order might be pressed into agreement that it would enter talks with Catholics about next year's parade. It suggested the Order might be induced to speak to Brendan McKenna, the former prisoner who is the residents' chief spokesman, "if he were specifically to acknowledge his terrorist past and disclaim any present influence by Sinn Fein".

The most remarkable idea floated in the document was that the march, which is partly in commemoration of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, might "incorporate visible signs of respect for Catholic tradition in parade - eg if parade is indeed partly in memory of those who died at the Somme ..." In the event the Orange Order agreed to none of the compromises.

As the disturbances continued there were appeals from Catholic bishops and others for calm and for peace. A group of senior business figures who yesterday met Ms Mowlam later expressed concern "about the damage which the heightened community tension and its expression in widespread disorder is inflicting on chances of winning jobs, investment, trade and tourism".

"If we keep on failing to get to grips with our community divisions, our economic prospects will be blighted and, sadly, the consequences will inevitably be worst for the less fortunate in our society," they said.

In the wake of the Drumcree march Ms Mowlam appealed to the Orange Order to show flexibility in relation to other contentious marches which lie ahead, in particular a parade planned to pass through the Catholic lower Ormeau area of Belfast on Saturday.

She said yesterday: "I recognise the disappointment and the anger which many people are feeling. I, too, am very disappointed.

"I recognise what a setback this is. Yesterday was a sad day for us all."

Endgame fails, page 6

Leading article, page 15