Portadown Orangeman insists arson attack that killed Quinn children 'nothing to do with Drumcree'
A prominent Orangeman has insisted a sectarian arson attack that killed three Catholic children was not linked to the Drumcree dispute.
Darryl Hewitt was speaking a quarter of a century after the first Drumcree stand-off, when nationalists blocked the Orange Order's route along the Garvaghy Road on July 9 1995.
The bitter confrontations that followed over subsequent years resulted in widespread violence and the deaths of several people.
The Orange Order was eventually banned from marching along the mainly nationalist road in 1998.
At the height of the stand-off that year, in the early hours of July 12, Catholic schoolboys Richard (10), Mark (9) and Jason Quinn (8) died after their mother Chrissie’s home in the mainly Protestant Carnany estate in Ballymoney, Co Antrim was petrol-bombed.
The horrific triple killing, carried out by the UVF, made headlines around the world.
After the outrage Orange Order chaplain Rev William Bingham voiced his sorrow, saying: "No road is worth a life let alone three lives of three little boys."
But asked about the deaths of the children, Mr Hewitt was adamant they were not connected to the Orange Order or the Portadown dispute.
“That was nothing to do with Drumcree,” he said.
“It came out at the inquest.”
The Portadown district master, who has continued to stage regular protests at Drumcree since 1998. said “all these things go into folklore and if you say it often enough it's believed”.
“People say we hand in a letter of protest, there's never a letter of protest been handed in, it's always a verbal protest,” he said.
“As far as I'm aware it came out in the inquest it was nothing to do with Drumcree.”
Ballymoney man Garfield Gilmour was convicted of the children’s murders but had the charge reduced to manslaughter on appeal.
He was jailed for 14 years in 2000.
In July 1996, Catholic taxi-driver Michael McGoldrick (31) was also shot dead at the height of the Drumcree dispute near Lurgan by the UVF.
Mr Hewitt said that if the father-of-one “did lose his life over Drumcree that has to be regretted by every right thinking person, but again we can't rewrite history”.
At various times during the dispute blast bombs were thrown and shots were fired by loyalists at police and military lines.
However, Mr Hewitt claimed that some of the shots were in fact “blanks”.
“That's what I was told by members who were ex-army, they say they were definitely blanks, that's what I was told,” he said.
“That was the following day I was told that.”
Looking back at 1995 and the start of the dispute, Mr Hewitt denied that an image of unionist leaders Ian Paisley and David Trimble holding each other's arms in the air as they led Orangemen through Portadown after marching along the Garvaghy Road was 'triumphalist'.
“That happened on Carlton Street and I was there,” he said.
“To me it was more a jig of relief.
“Everybody has their own perception of it.
“Why would David Trimble and Ian Paisley do a jig of victory when it was nothing to do with them.”
Mr Hewitt also referenced suggestions that the parade dispute was part of a wider republican strategy.
“Coming from the other side, Gerry Adams said Drumcree didn't happen by accident, it took three years of planning,” he said.
“From a unionist perspective that hardened opinions”.
With local Orangemen still intent on marching along the Garvaghy Road, he said he asked a Catholic priest to chair talks with local people but that “residents have yet to come back to me on that”.
He has also met with Archbishop Eamon Martin in the past to discuss the long running dispute.
Mr Hewitt said that if talks were held “everything” will be on the table.
“It has to be sorted to get everybody happy with the outcome,” he said.
He also accepts that things might have been handled differently 25 years ago.
“This is no criticism of the Orange leadership of the time,” he said.
“If there is a problem with two neighbours you sit down and talk about it and sort it out - maybe that should have happened, I just don't know.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing and you have different people involved.
“I don't think any of my predecessors would have met Gerry Adams and times change.
“Things move on and yes, we probably should have done things different, how, I don't know.”