The annual tension and trauma that is Drumcree

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The Independent Online

It's Drumcree time again, the sixth year that much disruption and great waves of fear have been generated by the Orange marching confrontation, the sixth year of trauma and tension.

It's Drumcree time again, the sixth year that much disruption and great waves of fear have been generated by the Orange marching confrontation, the sixth year of trauma and tension.

Not everywhere has been visited by violence and protests, but the scores which have taken place have sent almost the entire country scurrying for cover. People are nervous and apprehensive; in the evenings they hurry home and tend to stay home.

At tea-time last night motorists sat in traffic jams in many parts of Belfast, trying to figure out how to get home. The radio drive-time programmes reeled off lists of roads and streets which were blocked by loyalist protesters, sometimes with barricades.

Drivers had to work out how to thread their way through the blockages, trying not to put themselves or their vehicles at risk. Those who made it home, some of them an hour and a half late, were welcomed by relieved families.

Many had already been on the road earlier than usual, for various businesses prudently closed their doors before their usual time. This was partly to let their staff get home, and partly because customers were last night in short supply.

Many restaurants and bars were either closed or half-empty, for the country has gone into Drumcree mode, leaving Belfast city centre virtually empty.

After all these years everybody knows the drill by now: almost everyone except those actually looking for trouble gets inside and firmly shuts the door.

Nobody has been killed this Drumcree, but the possibility of death or injury is always there: in some places there are stones and bricks being thrown, there are petrol bombs, there are burning barricades. The possibility is there of turning a corner to be confronted by a mob of loyalists spoiling for a fight.

Down at Drumcree itself things have deteriorated night by night as rioters attack the police and army with stones, bricks, large fireworks and even acid squirted from syringes. The general expectation is that it will get steadily worse in the run-up to Sunday, when the next big march is scheduled.

In Belfast meanwhile the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association seems to be on the rampage, with men who were probably its members exchanging shots with police in the Protestant Shankill Road district. There seem to be many in the ranks who actively enjoy this sort of street-fighting.

Things are particularly bad in north Belfast where, as is common in the summer marching months, there have been loyalist attacks on homes occupied by Catholic families and people of mixed marriages.

The area is a sectarian patchwork quilt where Catholics and Protestants live in close but unharmonious proximity. The fast-growing Catholic population are seen as encroaching on Protestant territory by loyalists who attempt to drive them back with threats, bricks and petrol-bombs.

Most of the population lives away from such hotspots, in general attempting to get on with life as best as possible. But at Drumcree time the conflict is simply impossible to ignore, turning Belfast into a scary city, and at nights a ghost town as its people impose on themselves a voluntary curfew.

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