Northern Ireland news

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble at centre of Drumcree dispute

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble (right) during the 1996 Drumcree stand off. File picture by Pacemaker

ULSTER Unionist leader David Trimble recognised the need for compromise over the Drumcree parading dispute but "had shown little instinct to compromise himself".

Newly-released files show the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) had a series of talks, including with Mr Trimble, a senior RUC officer and an SDLP politician, in the run-up to the 1996 marching season.

The meetings, held in an effort to avert violence, were triggered by a directive from Prime Minister John Major.

In a letter to Mr Major's private secretary dated May 10, 1996, an NIO official reported that initial contact on the parades issue had suggested a "bleak" prospect but more recently there had been movement from "well-entrenched positions".

The official felt that Mr Trimble should be reminded of the need for compromise given that the UUP leader "is personally associated with the most dangerous parade - that at Drumcree on 7 July".

At a meeting with NIO Minister, Sir John Wheeler, Mr Trimble had recognised the need for compromise but "had shown little instinct to compromise himself", the file read.

The NIO official wrote that "disgraceful events" surrounding parades - including Drumcree and Lower Ormeau in south Belfast - in 1995 had been "orchestrated by Sinn Féin".

On the Ormeau Road, protesters were forcibly removed by police to clear the way for an Apprentice Boys parade in August 1995.

The NIO official wrote that protesters on the road had been "bussed" in from the west of the city.

At a meeting between Sir John Wheeler and deputy RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan on May 17, 1996, Mr Flanagan said Mr Trimble was very important to the Drumcree situation since the police believed that any accommodation should be "local".

He said the RUC had been approached by residents on the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown, asking to hold a festival on the road on the day of the Orange march.

Mr Flanagan said the best solution was a compromise which "allowed honour to both sides".

The RUC's intelligence was that the failure to allow the Drumcree march through could create a high number of Orangemen laying siege to Portadown.

Sir John felt that Mr Trimble's involvement in the previous year's Drumcree - in which he and Ian Paisley were pictured walking hand-in-hand at the bottom of the Garvaghy Road - "had to be seen in the context of his (UUP) leadership bid".

At a follow-up meeting with Sir John, Mr Trimble was accompanied by a Co Down Orangeman who had been sounding out the Garvaghy Road residents on a possible compromise.

Mr Trimble said 'the word on the street' was that the IRA was briefing its members for a return to violence and said if the RUC continued to re-route controversial parades it could create an explosive situation within loyalism.

Based on recent discussions between the Orangeman and Garvaghy Road residents, Mr Trimble felt the two parades on July 12 and Drumcree on July 7 might be reduced.

He also urged RUC officers to discuss the parade with "respectable" residents.

Among other declassified files released today are:

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