Orangemen pledge more disruption

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Portadown Orangemen yesterday signalled a major escalation in the Drumcree marching confrontation by announcing plans to bring Northern Ireland to a complete halt tomorrow.

Portadown Orangemen yesterday signalled a major escalation in the Drumcree marching confrontation by announcing plans to bring Northern Ireland to a complete halt tomorrow.

In a statement which raised tensions which were already at a high level, they also called on Unionist politicians to disrupt business both at Westminster and in the Northern Ireland assembly.

The main Drumcree parade, scheduled for today, has been prohibited from passing along the Catholic Garvaghy Road in Portadown. It will be halted at the huge steel obstacle which troops have placed across the road.

Ignoring pleas to abandon or scale down their protests, the leaders of the Order in Portadown have instead called on Orangemen all over Northern Ireland to organise four hours of "peaceful protests" tomorrow.

The Portadown Orangemen want this to happen between 4pm and 8pm, in effect paralysing Northern Ireland cities and towns for that period. The move signals that they have decided to disregard the increasing number of Protestant voices who warn that they are damaging the order and the country as a whole.

They declared in a statement that their Drumcree protest would continue until the march was allowed along the Garvaghy Road. They want Unionist MPs to disrupt Westminster business, and they want members of the Belfast assembly who are Orangemen to withdraw from it.

Thousands of troops and police are on standby for deployment in the event of trouble today, when the Drumcree march is to be stopped, or in the days to come. If other Orangemen act on the call to disrupt life on Monday the security forces will be at full stretch.

All the signs are that many Protestants have been dismayed by the adamant refusal of Portadown District Master Harold Gracey to condemn violence in a series of interviews on Friday. Mr Gracey declared: "I am not going to condemn violence because Gerry Adams never condemns it."

This followed a week in which the security forces had been shot at on a dozen occasions, with 140 petrol-bomb incidents and 43 homes and 171 vehicles damaged. Many Protestants are also uneasy about the close identification of the Ulster Freedom Fighters' leader Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair with the dispute, and with Mr Gracey's refusal to disavow his support.

The attempt to step up the dispute closely followed an appeal for calm from First Minister David Trimble, who had called for cool heads. He defended the Orange Order, but said it had been damaged by the protests.

Archbishop Robin Eames, head of the Church of Ireland, said paramilitary involvement had removed any integrity which the Drumcree protest might have had. He called on Portadown Orangemen to issue an immediate and unequivocal call for all violence to cease immediately.

This followed earlier criticisms from the Moderator of the Presbyterian church, Dr Trevor Morrow, who declared: "What we are seeing is an insult and a disgrace to the Gospel of Christ that we are meant to bear witness to. The problem is that having called on to the streets, as they have done, hundreds of people, they are unable to control those people."

Peter Mandelson, Northern Ireland Secretary, called for an end to protests, saying they had been hijacked. He added: "The time for legitimate protest is behind us. We have now seen other elements taking over, a rabble, thuggish elements, representatives of paramilitaries, hijacking this protest, and it is intolerable."

Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein commented: "What we are witnessing here is the last kick of loyalist rejectionism. I don't believe, despite their worst efforts, that they have the ability to destabilise the peace process."

The Rev Warren Porter, a former senior chaplain in the Orange Order, was also critical, saying: "When youngsters of 12 and upwards, orchestrated by sinister men in the shadows, take to burning cars and buses, the Orange brethren have no room for complaint when the likes of Martin McGuinness chides them for foolishness.

"He might justly have used much stronger language. What is happening night by night at Drumcree is bringing shame on us all."