Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

N. Ireland Protestants Defy Security, Vow to Finish March

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

N. Ireland Protestants Defy Security, Vow to Finish March

Article excerpt

PORTADOWN, Northern Ireland -- Signaling a potentially violent week ahead, leaders of Northern Ireland's major Protestant group vowed yesterday to march past Roman Catholic homes in this bitterly polarized town.

More than 2,000 members and supporters of the Orange Order marched to Drumcree, an Anglican church near Portadown, where British security forces for the past two years have prevented the Protestant group from parading past a nearby Catholic neighborhood.

British soldiers in armored personnel carriers blocked the Orangemen's intended route, a narrow country lane between the church and Garvaghy Road, and rows of riot police in helmets and flame-retardant uniforms stood ready. A British army helicopter and police observation plane monitored the scene as Orange leaders handed police commanders a formal protest letter.

"This struggle goes on for as long as it takes," Portadown's Orange leader, Harold Gracey, told the crowd from a podium in front of the armored vehicles. A few dozen men, some of them members of outlawed anti-Catholic gangs based in Portadown, scuffled with police and threw stones, but no injuries were reported.

The Orange Order, a hard-line fraternal group founded near Portadown in the 1790s, is still influential today. Tens of thousands of Orangemen march each July, often to celebrate 17th-century military victories over Catholics.

The Portadown march, which commemorates the losses suffered by Protestants during World War I's Battle of the Somme, has traditionally gone past the Catholics living on Portadown's Garvaghy Road. The event has caused violence whether or not police have permitted the Orangemen to parade: Police violently forced anti-Orange protesters off the road in 1996 and 1997, provoking riots in many Catholic areas, but have banned the parade route since 1998, triggering Protestant disturbances. …

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