Northern Ireland news

Looming Drumcree dominated inter-government summit in 1997

DUP leader Ian Paisley and UUP leader David Trimble at the bottom of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, Co Armagh, in 1995. Picture from Pacemaker
√Čamon Phoenix

INTER-party talks, security and the issue of contentious parades dominated a final meeting of the Inter-Governmental Conference in Dublin in March 1997 before general elections in the UK and the Republic.

Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew said the British government believed that the best prospects for success in the talks lay in keeping the parties around the table on the basis of the compromise suggested by Senator George Mitchell.

He said that loyalist parties the PUP (aligned to the UVF) and the UDP (aligned to the UDA) had made some impressive contributions and he believed they were committed to democratic and peaceful methods.

Tánaiste Dick Spring agreed and said that the Irish government maintained "a high level of contact with the loyalist parties".

Mr Spring expressed disappointment that the recent recommendation for an independent Parades Commission had not been implemented.

Sir Patrick said that residents' groups and marchers had hardened their positions.

He welcomed SDLP leader John Hume's engagement with the Garvaghy Road residents in Portadown, Co Armagh, but said there appeared to be no willingness to move from the principle of ‘No Orange feet on Garvaghy Road’.

The district lodges who had come to see him with the Rev William Bingham and Denis Watson, the county grand master, were no less adamant, he said.

"Rev Bingham and Mr Watson were trying, genuinely and hard, to find a compromise," he said. "They feared a repeat of Drumcree (in 1996) and its implications for the Orange Order. But the district lodges regarded themselves as virtually autonomous and there was little sign of give in their attitudes."


RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan said negotiations were taking place. However, he said mediation had become difficult after RTÉ's Prime Time programme reported that Gerry Adams had told an internal republican conference that Sinn Féin was behind the protests on Garvaghy Road, the lower Ormeau Road in Belfast, and other areas.

The chief constable added that weekly loyalist pickets at a Catholic church in Harryville, Ballymena, Co Antrim "represented rampant bigotry and sectarianism" but had been kept isolated.

Finally, the Tánaiste said the Irish government believed that further material now available undermined the findings of the Widgery Review into the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings in Derry. Sir Patrick said that the dossier from John Hume was being scrutinised.

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