Ulster nerves taut as Orange parades near

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The Independent Online
The tension was almost tangible in Portadown yesterday as both Protestant and Catholic communities look forward nervously to Sunday's planned Orange parade.

The more visible signs at Drumcree and its effect on the psyche of the town were also there. In the largely Catholic Garvaghy Road area, through which the march is scheduled to pass, youths were busily erecting bunting in the colours of the Irish Tricolour and repainting anti-Orange slogans on walls. Elsewhere in the mainly Protestant town, Union flags fluttered from scores of windows and the bonfires that traditionally mark the Orange Order's July celebrations were piling high.

Such tension is familiar for the 103 Protestants families still living at the bottom of the Garvaghy Road, an area once known as The Walk because of its associations with parades but now mostly Catholic. One woman sitting in her living room with a photograph of the Queen, talks of the intimidation she and neighbours suffer from nationalists all year round but especially in July. "Windows are smashed, doors are kicked and our children can't play safely in the park." She recalls a recent incident in which a six- year-old Protestant boy was surrounded by Catholic teenagers who asked him what his religion was. "He didn't understand, but when they asked if he listened to bands with his mother he said `yes', so they urinated all over him."

Despite, or because of this, the woman who like most people approached by The Independent asked not to be named, is furious at speculative talk that the Portadown Lodge might choose not to walk down the Garvaghy Road. "Even though we will bear the brunt here, the march must go through. I'm not going to be driven out."

But according to Ivor Young, who four months ago helped found the Concerned Protestants Committee in the town, said many had been driven out by what he called "ethnic cleansing" inspired by nationalists. And he claimed that the outside world has chosen to ignore the plight of such Protestants for too long. Sunday's parade is make-or-break for the Unionists, he believes, and if the Lodge does not march down the road he says he will urge "ordinary men, women and children" to do just that. "We are getting walked upon, but I think we are beginning to wake up to what's happening. We're not daft."

In the town centre there is deeply felt support for the parade. "We don't want any trouble but I think our community has given enough away," says one woman. Another adds: "I think that people would be devastated if it didn't go ahead."

On the Garvaghy Road itself, where Catholic women have set up a self- styled "Justice Camp" in an attempt to prevent the march going through, a woman said: "Why can't they march in their own part of town? I just want my children to be able to go out and be safe." She denied that Protestants had been driven out. "Its just that when they leave they tend to be replaced by Catholics."

Few Protestants believe her. They talk of a Sinn Fein orchestrated campaign to bring in outsiders for the weekend's protests, and of claims that petrol bombs have been prepared. One said: "They won't be happy until the area is 100 per cent Catholic."