Northern Ireland news

'Profound sectarianism' at root of violence at Dumcree

The Drumcree protest on Sunday July 5 2015. Picture by Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye
Éamon Phoenix

PROFOUND sectarianism was at the root of the violence at Drumcree, a Northern Ireland Office (NIO) official wrote in 1997.

In a memo, Stephen Leech, NIO Associate Director of Policing and Security, said this was "endemic in Portadown".

It had been demonstrated by events including the murder of Robert Hamill – a Catholic kicked to death by a loyalist mob – and also by emerging evidence of "a virtual absence of cross-community activity" in the town.

Mr Leech told colleagues there was an urgent need to rebuild community relations to avoid further Drumcree stand-offs.

Growing tension as the march date approached was considered at a meeting of the NIO Parades Coordinating Group.

Secretary of State Mo Mowlam and officials maintained an intensive round of meetings with parade organisers and residents' groups while Prime Minister Tony Blair announced proximity talks on the issue.

These took place on June 27 when nationalist residents insisted no parade should go down Garvaghy Road.

On July 6, after Orangemen were permitted to march, widespread rioting erupted in nationalist areas. The parade was followed by a stormy meeting between Dr Mowlam and Orange representatives.

Dr Mowlam said "the whole nationalist population were very angry and some were now looking to the IRA for protection".

Surely, after Drumcree, she begged: "Number Ten District [in South Belfast] could forego their march on the lower Ormeau Road this year for the good of Ulster?"

The Orange Order responded by agreeing to reroute four marches on the Twelfth to avoid Catholic areas, including that on the lower Ormeau.

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