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Parades and Marches - Developments at Drumcree, 1995-2000



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Text and Research: Fionnuala McKenna and Martin Melaugh
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Developments at Drumcree, 1995-2000

Photograph above of the parish church at Drumcree
See also photographs of Drumcree and Garvaghy Road

This following is a draft outline of the events surrounding the Orange Order parade at Drumcree during the period 1995 to 2000.

Events at Drumcree since 1995 have brought the issue of parades in Northern Ireland to the forefront of the political agenda. The issue has always been a controversial one and Northern Ireland has a long history of conflict associated with parades and marches, but this reached a new level in the years from 1995 to 2000.

Ironically the trouble at Drumcree in 1995 occurred during the first year of the ceasefires announced by Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups. Many people hoped that the 'marching season' would pass off peacefully but this was not to be the case. Some writers have suggested that because of the ceasefires the issue of parades became, for some, an alternative means of displaying and mobilising behind their traditional political demands.

The events surrounding the Drumcree parade prompted strong responses from various sections of the community, political parties and the Irish Government. They also highlighted questions regarding the rule of law in Northern Ireland and the impartiality of its police force. This page provides a brief outline of the events surrounding the Drumcree parade in the years 1995 to 2000 and has links to the associated documents.

Events in Drumcree July 2000

Map of the Garvaghy Road area of Portadown, County Armagh

The 'traditional date' for the Orange Order parade to Drumcree Church is the Sunday before the 'Twelfth' (12 July) each year. The traditional date for 2000 was therefore 9 July. However, the Orange Order applied for another parade on 2 July 2000. Some commentators felt that this tactic was used to try to heighten tension over a longer period of time in advance of the main parades across Northern Ireland on the 'Twelfth'. The Parades Commission ruled that the parade on 2 July would be re-routed on the return leg of the parade from Drumcree Church.

During the evenings and nights following the parade on 2 July 2000 there were violent protests in Protestant areas of Belfast and at Drumcree in Portadown. Many roads were blocked in Belfast and other towns across Northern Ireland.

On Monday 3 July 2000 the Parades Commission ruled that the parade planned for 9 July 2000 would also be re-routed away from the mainly Catholic Garvaghy Road in Portadown.

Events in Drumcree July 1999

Once again as the date of the Drumcree parade approached there had been no agreement between the Orange Order and the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC; formerly Garvaghy Road Residents Group). The Orange Order continued to refuse to hold a face-to-face with the GRRC because one of its members had served a prison sentence for a paramilitary offence. A number of 'proximity' meetings were held and both sides had met Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister. In the absence of a local agreement the Parades Commission issued a ruling on 28 June 1999 that the parade would be re-routed away from the Garvaghy Road. Alistair Graham, then Chairman of the Commission also issued a statement on the ruling.

The dispute over Drumcree had lasted between July 1998, when the parade was re-routed away from the Garvaghy Road, to July 1999. During this period there were scores of marches and parades in Portadown and elsewhere in Northern Ireland in support of the Orange Order. There had also been a high level of intimidation and violence mainly directed at Catholic familes across the region but most attacks occurred in counties Armagh, Antrim, and Down.

During the attempt to find a solution to the decommissioning issue surrounding the Good Friday Agreement it looked, on a number of occasions, as through there would be some form of linkage between Drumcree and the formation of the Executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Some commentators had felt that movement on the Executive, on the part of Unionists, would have resulted in a parade on the Garvaghy Road on 4 July 1999.

In preparation for the 1999 Drumcree Parade, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) launched a major security campaign in the surrounding area. A fifteen foot steel barricade was erected, hundreds of feet of razor barbed wire put in place, and a field ploughed and filled with water to separate the police and the protesters. On the Sunday morning, approximately 1300 Orangemen paraded through Portadown and were met by several thousand supporters at Drumcree. Following the Church service, six members of Portadown District Orange Lodge paraded to the police barricade and delivered a letter of protest to a senior RUC officer. The Orangemen then dispersed to attend a nearby rally, where they were addressed by the District Master, Harold Gracey. Mr. Gracey was adamant that the protest at Drumcree would continue and that the Orangemen would walk down the Garvagh road, but asked supporters to remain peaceful. In the event, the day passed off relatively peacefully, with only a few skirmishes in Portadown and Ballymena.

Events in Drumcree July 1998

The main difference between the run-up to Drumcree IV and the three previous years was the fact that the Parades Commission was in place and was legally responsible for making decisions on whether or not contentious parades should be banned, re-routed, or allowed to proceed. As in 1997 there was no local accommodation between the Orange Order and the residents of Garvaghy Road. As a result on Monday 29 June 1998 the Commission announced its decision on the Drumcree parade planned for Sunday 5 July 1998; the parade would be re-routed so that it would not pass down the Garvaghy Road. The Secretary of State for Northern Irelan, Mo Mowlam, issued statements on Monday 29 June 1998 and Tuesday 30 June 1998 in response to the decision of the Parades Commission. Statements in response to the announcement were also made by Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and on behalf of the Assembly Members of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

In response to the Parade Commission's decision the Orange Order announced that it would attempt to march its 'traditional' route and if its members were stopped they would stand their ground for as long as it might take. On Thursday 2 July 1998 the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland issued an open letter to the people of Northern Ireland setting out its view of the situation.

Although the Parades Commission has made a legally binding decision on the parade, this decision can be reversed by the Secretary of State or by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Indeed the Chief Constable has the powers to make the decision on the ground if he feels that it is in the best interest of public order. Just such an decision was taken after four days of stand-off at Drumcree in 1996.

From Friday 3 July 1998 to Saturday 4 July the security forces brought additional men and equipment into the Portadown and Drumcree areas. Approximately 1,000 British troops and 1,000 RUC officers were deployed in preparation for the march. The British Army built a large barricade on the road which links Drumcree Church with the Garvaghy Road and dug a trench, which was then lined with barbed-wire, through ajoining fields. These fields, some of which are owned by the Church of Ireland, had been used in previous years by protestors to try and get around the security cordon.

On Sunday 5 July 1998 the march made its way to Drumcree Church passing on the way a heavily fortified Catholic Chapel. After the service at Drumcree Church the Orange Order marched up to the barricade and then returned to the church were a 'stand-off' began. This stand-off is still continuing. The Orange Order has said that its members will remain at Drumcree until such time as they are allowed to return to Portadown by their 'traditional' route through the Catholic Garvaghy Road area.

Later in the evening of Sunday 5 July 1998 the protesting Orange men were joined by others from Belfast including the Grand Master of the Orange Order. Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), also arrived late at night to address the Orange men. Overnight there was rioting in a number of Protestant areas of Northern Ireland and people who sympathised with the Drumcree Orange men also blocked a number of roads across the region.

On Thursday 9 July 1998 representatives of the Orange Order met Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, in London for talks. No resolution was found and the British government has repeated its statement that the decision of the Parades Commission will be enforced. A senior member of the Orange Order has said that they could paralyse Northern Ireland.

Since Saturday 4 July 1998 there has been widespread violence across Northern Ireland, almost all of it carried out by Loyalists who support the Orange Order. The RUC have released some statistics on public order incidents from 6am on Saturday 4 July 1998 to 6am on Tuesday 14 July 1998:

  • there have been a total of 2,561 public order incidents recorded by the RUC
  • 144 houses damaged in attacks
  • 165 other buildings damaged
  • 178 vehicles hijacked
  • 467 vehicles damaged
  • 615 attacks on members of the security forces, including
    • 24 shooting incidents
    • 45 blast bombs
  • 76 police offices injured
  • 284 people arrested
  • 632 petrol bombs thrown
  • 2,250 petrol bombs recovered by the RUC
  • 837 plastic baton rounds fired by the RUC
Most of the houses attacked were Catholic owned and many Catholic families were forced from their homes. Many of the attacks involved petrol bombs and stones but there have also been blast bombs thrown at Catholic homes and also shots fired. A number of Catholic schools have also been attacked and set on fire. (In the week before the stand-off began 10 Catholic chapels were fire-bombed with the suspicion falling on the Loyalist Volunteer Force; LVF.) The shooting and blast bomb incidents are undoubtedly the work of Loyalist paramilitaries and many commentators believe that individual members of groups that are susposed to be on ceasefire have been involved.

In addition to the violence the Orange Order has held many illegal parades and members of the Orange Order have blocked many roads across the region. Attempts have also been made to block the access roads to the Catholic Garvaghy Road but the RUC have moved the people involved off the road. The Catholic village of Dunloy was 'beseiged' by over 1,000 Orange men on Tuesday 7 July 1998 with all access routes blocked and the main Belfast to Coleraine road was also blocked. In a statement the County Antrim Grand Lodge said that its members had "taken up positions" and "held" the village.

It had been anticipated that the crisis in Northern Ireland over Drumcree would intensify over the 12th weekend. On Tuesday 7 July 1998 Ian Paisley said that the '12th' would be the "settling day". Violence continued in Drumcree and in various areas throughout Northern Ireland over the weekend. Attacks were made on the police, and a number of Catholic homes were petrol bombed.

Given that there have been approximately 140 attacks on Catholic homes it was almost inevitable that someone would be killed. At roughly 4.30am on the morning of Sunday 12 July 1998 three young Catholic boys (Jason, Mark and Richard Quinn, aged 8, 9 and 10 years old) were burned to death when their home was fire-bombed by Loyalists in a sectarian attack. Spokesmen for the Orange Order have tried to argue that there is no connection between this incident (and indeed all the other acts of violence) and the situation at Drumcree.

This tragedy provoked widespread horror and condemnation, and pleas were made by the Secretary of State, Dr. Mo Mowlam, First Minister David Trimble, Deputy First Minister Séamus Mallon, the Portadown District Chaplain, William Bingham and various others to the Orangeman to call off their protest and go home. Despite all this, the Orange Order in Portadown have voted unanimously to continue their stand-off at Drumcree Church. Their numbers there have however decreased considerably.

At 6.30am on Wednesday 15 July 1998 the RUC began a search operation in the fields at Drumcree. A number of weapons were uncovered in the search including: a home-made machinegun; ammunition, explosive devices, material for making blast-bombs and petrol-bombs, and crossbows with home-made explosive arrows. During the search the Orange Order members were excluded from the area, however a token presence was allowed.

A token demonstration was maintained by the Orange Order at Drumcree from July 1998 to July 1999. The Orange Order also organised hundreds of demonstrations and marches in Portadown and across Northern Ireland in support of its demand to be allowed to parade down the Garvaghy road. In addition to the legal protests there has been an increased level of violence from the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders with almost daily attacks on the homes of Catholic civilians. Two people died as a result of these attacks.

Events in Drumcree July 1997

The Drumcree march on 6 July 1997 led to trouble on the streets of Northern Ireland for the third year in a row. In the run-up to the march the Orange Order wrote a letter (dated 4 June 1997) to the Catholic residents of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown. The letter sought to explain the position of the Order in relation to the annual parade. However, no accommodation was reached between the Order and the Catholic residents of the Garvaghy Road. In the absence of any local agreement the decision as to whether or not the parade should be re-routed was to be taken by Mo Mowlam, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on the advice of the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

In the days leading up to the parade thousands of British troops were flown to Northern Ireland and hundreds of soldiers were moved into the Portadown area. The RUC and the British Army began to establish checkpoints around Portadown on Friday 4 July 1997. Women from the Garvaghy Road established a 'Greenham Common-style' peace camp consisting of tents on the grass verges of the road. On the 3 July 1997 the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) issued a death threat against Catholics if the march was not allowed to proceed.

One possible compromise was suggested by Robert McCartney, then leader of the United Kingdom Unionist (UKU) Party. His proposal involved the parade being declared lawful and then the Orange Order waiving their right to march down the Garvaghy Road. This possible solution was however rejected by the Orange Order.

The day before the scheduled march Mo Mowlam said that she had not taken a final decision on whether to re-route the parade. However the tone of her statement, together with the nature of the deployment of police and troops led many commentators to speculate that the parade would be banned from the Garvaghy Road.

On Sunday 6 July 1997 at 3.30am 1,500 British soldiers and RUC officers moved into the Catholic housing estates on the Garvaghy Road and sealed off the area. Around 300 residents who managed to make it through to the road to stage a sit-down protest were moved, with some violence, by the RUC. Stones and petrol bombs were then thrown at the RUC who moved to force residents further back from the road. Residents were also prevent from getting to the local Catholic church and local priests celebrated mass in the open-air in front of a line of British Army vehicles and soldiers. Later, around 12.00pm, the Orange Order parade was allowed to proceed down the Garvaghy Road. After the parade had passed the security forces began to withdraw from the area and a riot developed. Approximately 40 plastic bullets were fired at rioters. During the day 18 people were treated at hospital for various injuries.

Rioting spread during the rest of the day to other Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. In Lurgan a train was stopped and burnt. Two Protestant teenagers were injured in a shooting incident in North Belfast. In Lenadoon a Catholic teenager was critically injured after being hit by a plastic bullet.

Later on 6 July 1997 the Chief Constable of the RUC said that he had decided to recommend that the parade be allowed to pass down the Garvaghy Road because of the threats to Catholics from Loyalist paramilitaries.

On Tuesday 8 July 1997 a Northern Ireland Office document was leaked which, it was claimed, showed that Mo Mowlam, then Secretary of State, had taken the decision in late June 1997 to allow the parade to proceed. This in spite of the fact that she had maintained on the 5 July 1997 that no decision had then been made in respect of the parade.

Events in Drumcree July 1996

As a result of legislation that was in force in 1996 in Northern Ireland, the only grounds for re-routing parades was on the basis of public disorder as laid out in Article 4 of the 1987 Public Order (NI) Order. According to this the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) has to take into consideration the time, place and route of any parade, and if he feels that it might cause public disorder he has the power to impose conditions restricting the route. Furthermore, if this is not sufficient to enable him to prevent serious public disorder then he has the power to apply to the district council for an order to prohibit all public processions in that area, with the consent of the Secretary of State. Any person failing to comply with the conditions imposed, or who organises or helps to organise any parade or public procession in contravention of an order made under this section, is guilty of an offence.

On 6 July 1996 Hugh Annesley' the then Chief Constable, made the decision to re-route the Orange Order parade from the Garvaghy Road in Portadown. This decision was made in the light of circumstances the previous year and in accordance with the Public Order legislation.

On Sunday 7 July Orangemen assembled at Drumcree and were prevented from marching down the Garvaghy Road by the police. The Reverend Martin Smyth, then Orange Grand Master, arrived at Drumcree that afternoon and announced that there could be no compromise. By 11.30pm that night a crowd of at least 4,000 had gathered in front of police lines. Thus began a four day stand-off between police and Orangemen, and widespread disruption and rioting throughout Northern Ireland.

The following day, Monday 8 July 1996, the situation worsened with more and more people joining the Orangemen at Drumcree; there was no hint of a compromise. There was a steady increase in violence throughout Northern Ireland and major routes throughout the region were blocked by Orangemen and Loyalist supporters. At Drumcree demonstators attempted to break through the barbed wire barricades erected by the police and army, and threw stones and bottles. The police retaliated with plastic bullets injuring three loyalist supporters.

In terms of numbers and resources the police were stetched to their limit with the situation at Drumcree and the various other 'hot-spots', and, on the third day (9 July 1996), 1,000 British troops were sent into Northern Ireland to help cope with the upsurge in violence. Two more batallions arrived within the next couple of days bringing the number of troops up to 18,500. Serious trouble flared up in North Belfast that night following a series of Orange Order marches. Four Catholic families were intimidated out of their homes and there were hundreds of road blocks around Northern Ireland. Many people were prevented from going to their place of work, including a number of doctors, or indeed going about their normal life.

By Wednesday 10 July 1996 violence continued as did the road blocks and general disruption with many main roads, villages and towns being blocked off. There was also serious rioting in the predominantly loyalist Newtownards Road in Belfast. In Drumcree that evening a crowd of approximately 10,000 had gathered.

The stand-off over the previous four days had resulted in the following:

  • Death of Michael McGoldrick, a Catholic taxi driver
  • Over 100 incidents of intimidation
  • 90 civilian injuries
  • 50 RUC injuries
  • 758 attacks on the police
  • 662 plastic baton rounds fired by police
  • 156 arrests made

On Thursday, 11 July, before noon, the Chief Constable capitulated to the protesting Orangemen, and reversed his original decision to re-route the parade. Approximately 1,200 Portadown Orangemen were allowed to march down the Catholic Garvaghy Road.

Residents of Garvaghy Road had not been consulted on the reversal of the original decision. Rioting erupted immediately in Nationalist areas, most notably in the Garvaghy Road, North and West Belfast, Derry and Armagh. In Derry alone, over 1,000 petrol bombs were thrown at the RUC, who in turn fired over 1,000 plastic bullets at rioters. Twenty-two people were seriously injured and Dermot McShane (35), a Catholic man, died after being run over by a British Army armoured vehicle in Little James Street in Derry.

Rioting continued throughout the week in Nationalist areas, and between the 11 and 15 July the RUC fired a total of 6,002 plastic bullets, 5,000 of which were directed at Nationalists. The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), who had sent members to observe the situation, condemned the "completely indiscriminate" use of plastic bullets in Derry which injured more than 150 people. They have subsequently published a report of their findings entitled The Mis-Rule of Law.{External_Link}

The 'U-Turn' decision caused a huge outcry from the Nationalist community, Residents Groups, politicians, Cardinal Daly (who was involved in discussions with other church leaders regarding a means of resolving the situation) and the Irish Government, to name but a few. The decision sparked off major discussions about who governs Northern Ireland, the role of policing and the impartiality of the police force.


Chief Constable's Response

On Sunday 14 July 1996 whilst widespread rioting and disruption continued in Nationalist areas, Hugh Annesley, the then Chief Constable, was interviewed on BBC radio by Barry Cowan and asked to justify his decisions over the past week.

In this interview, Hugh Annesley attributed overall blame for the violence to the Portadown Orange Lodge and the Garvaghy Road Residents coalition who failed to reach an agreement among themselves in the previous year. He maintained that his decision was based only on the grounds of public order and security, and was not influenced in any way by interference from the Northern Ireland Office, the Prime Minister or the Irish Government. He was equally adamant that the issue of policing in Northern Ireland had never been discussed with any Irish politicians - an accusation levelled at him by many Loyalists.

As to why Drumcree was allowed to reach the level that it did, the Chief Constable maintained that he did not have sufficient physical resources. The priorities, he claimed, were to protect the Catholic and Protestant interfaces in Belfast, to keep main roads open throughout the region, and to ensure that ports and airports were also kept open. The police could have found themselves with various seats of disorder, police numbers would have been dissipated, and they would have been "incapable of holding Portadown".

He condemned the stance of the Portdown lodge and said that nothing could possibly justify their bringing Northern Ireland to a standstill. He admitted that the law had been broken but said that he was fearful of the consequences had the situation continued until the '11th night' (11 July), when a lot of alcohol was consumed and passions were running high, and a crowd of 60,000 to 70,000 loyalist supporters was anticipated. He believed that they would have broken through the wire. Therefore, he felt that his only option was to withdraw. Despite the fact that there were 3,000 police officers present at the time, and 18,500 soldiers at his disposal, he still felt that they could not contain the situation.

The Chief Constable accepted that the rule of law has had a set-back at Drumcree, and there had been loss of life and injuries sustained but, he said: "I made an honest, professional and proper decision with the entire support of my two Deputy Chief Constables and the overwhelming number of my Assistant Chief Constables. When we got to the position that it could not be sustained, I changed it."


Police Authority Response

On 19 July, the Police Authority of Northern Ireland (PANI) called a special meeting with the Chief Constable to discuss the recent events. The Police Authority were in full support of the Chief Constable's decision, and Pat Armstrong, the Chairman of the Police Authority, denied that any responsibility lay with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Rather, he said that responsibility for the situation lay with both the perpetrators of the violence and those who condoned it. He added that the RUC had been, "placed in a no-win situation, and cast as scapegoats when all they have been trying to do is their duty in upholding the law."

The Police Authority did however agree that some positive steps were needed to prevent this situation arising again. They agreed the following:

  • To urge the Secretary of State to set in motion a review of current arrangements for parades
  • To discuss measures at the next Police Authority meeting in August 1996 which would help to make the religious balance of the RUC more reflective of the community as a whole
  • To give further consideration to changes that might be necessary to the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 and its policy on parades.


Nationalist Community Response

The impact of events in July 1996 on the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland was huge. They experienced a complete loss of faith in the Royal Ulster Constabluary (RUC) as an impartial police force. Many Nationalists contrasted the stated aims and objectives of the RUC (as, for example, outlined by the Chief Constable in his Annual Report) and their perception that the RUC did not uphold the rule of the law, nor did it bring to justice those who broke the law, or protect, reassure and assist those whom it claimed to serve.

The feelings of many Nationalists in Northern Ireland were summed up in the Irish News editorial of the 13 July 1996, "Questions following U-Turn".

Gerry Adams issued a statement on 11 July 1996 immediately after the Chief Constable's decision to permit the parade to go through, stating that members of the Nationalist community have no rights. The statement argued that marches should not be allowed to pass through areas which object to them, but the British Government ignored this and instead rewarded the Loyalists for their campaign of intimidation and conceded to their demands. In a further statement issued the following day, Gerry Adams stated that the RUC was now completely unacceptable to the Nationalist community, and that the week's events only demonstrated the fact that neither equality, democracy or justice existed in Northern Ireland. He advocated the need for radical changes in the RUC.

John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and Seamus Mallon, the deputy leader of the SDLP, were furious in their condemnation of the Government's treatment of the situation at Garvaghy Road. At the House of Commons, John Hume referred to the Government's "surrender", a term which was rejected by Mr. Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Seamus Mallon then challenged the government as to who rules Northern Ireland, and who polices the state, claiming that events of the past week showed that it was not the legitimate police force, but rather the, "thugs with sashes who once again imposed their will upon the whole of the North of Ireland".

In a press statement issued on 13 July 1996 the SDLP claimed that the week's events had seriously damaged the trust and confidence which was essential to the political process and that there was no longer any basis for the party's continued participation in the Northern Ireland Forum. And so the SDLP tendered their resignation from the Northern Ireland Forum as of the 13 July 1996.


Irish Government's Response

The Irish government had maintained all along that the right to march must take into consideration the rights and sensitivities of local communities, and that they should not take place along a route where they are not wanted. Their response to the Chief Constable's decision was one of anger and dismay. In a statement [Link currently not available] issued on the 11 July 1996 members of the Irish Government expressed their concern at the gravity of the situation and appealed for restraint from the Nationalist community. They also expressed surprise at the fact that dialogue had not continued between the different groups involved and the church leaders, and re-iterated the need for a clear set of rules regarding parades which would take into consideration the feelings of all concerned.

The following evening John Bruton, the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), was interviewed on the BBC's nine o'clock news. During this interview, he spoke out angrily against the decision taken. He placed responsibility for the rioting and intimidation with the British Government, and criticised it for being weak and yielding under pressure: "I believe that once a government makes a decision in a democracy under the rule of law that it is going to hold a particular line, it must hold that line."

In a further statement [Link currently not available] on Northern Ireland issued by the Taoiseach on 25 July 1996, he condemned the British Government for failing in 3 of the basic elements of democracy. He stated that a state cannot afford to yield to force, or be inconsistent, or be partial in the way it applies the law. John Bruton concluded that the British Government had been remiss in all three of these and very serious damage had been done by the British Government, although it could be rectified. He appealed once more for revision of the whole issue of parades to prevent long-term damage to community relations.


Implications for Policing

According to the Chief Constable's Annual Report {external_link} in 1995, the purpose of the RUC is as follows:

  • to uphold the rule of law
  • to bring to justice those who break the law
  • to play our full part in the eradication of terrorism and prevention of crime
  • to help preserve the peace
  • to protect, reassure and assist those whom we serve
In accordance with this definition, then the police force failed at Drumcree. It failed to uphold the rule of law and, as many commentators stated, surrendered to mob rule; it failed to bring to justice many of those who broke the law at Drumcree; and it failed to help preserve the peace.

An impartial police force is a prerequisite in any society. If citizens are to feel secure they must be confident that they will be treated equally and justly and the rule of law will be upheld at all times. The impartiality of the RUC was called into question after Drumcree. Many people believe that the RUC behaved differently in their treatment of Nationalist protesters, adopting an obviously more aggressive approach at their dispersal. Between the 7 and 15 July 1996, the RUC fired a total of 6,002 plastic bullets, yet over 5,000 of these were directed at Nationalists. Meanwhile, journalists reported that some RUC members were seen to be mingling with Loyalist protesters at Drumcree.

This highlights one of the long-term problems with the RUC - its composition is 93 per cent Protestant. In his interview with the Chief Constable following the stand-off at Drumcree Pat Armstrong, Chairman of the Police Authority, emphasised the need to address this problem. On 5 August 1996 the Police Authority held a special meeting {external_link} to discuss further the impact which the Drumcree stand-off had on policing and possible ways of remedying the situation. It concentrated on four main issues.

(a)Firstly, consideration regarding the need to make the membership of the RUC more reflective of the whole community. Arrangements were made to meet with the Chief Constable to discuss the RUC recruitment procedures, and the Authority agreed to participate in a Working Group on this subject.

(b) Secondly, recognition that the credibility of the RUC had been damaged somewhat during the summer months. The Police Authority undertook to conduct surveys and opinion polls in an attempt to estimate the level of grievances and dissatisfaction among members of the public over the coming months.

(c) Thirdly, the policing of parades in the future. Pat Armstrong confirmed the Police Authority's participation in the Independent Review of Parades and Marches and announced that their submission would be made public in due course.

(d) Fourthly, the use of plastic bullets in controlling disorder arising from parades. Pat Armstrong said that he would be discussing the review of the RUC's use of plastic baton rounds with the Inspector of Constabulary and his submission to the Inspector would be made available in due course.

The following month, the Police Authority did carry out surveys within Northern Ireland on people's attitudes towards the police. On 5 December 1996 they issued a press statement regarding the results of theses surveys and confirmed that the overall level of confidence in the police had fallen. As was expected there was a very noticeable difference in the opinions of Catholics and Protestants on this subject. Only 50 per cent of Catholics questioned felt that the police treated everyone equally and fairly, whilst 81 per cent of Protestants questioned were satisfied that they did. When questioned as to whether there was a need for reform or replacement of the RUC, 78 per cent of the Catholic respondants agreed that there was, while only 39 per cent of Protestants questioned believed that the RUC was in need of reform.


Some Other Consequences

Following the events in Drumcree in 1996, a number of Catholics in rural areas of Northern Ireland began to boycott Protestant businesses. Many Catholics are now boycotting Protestant businessmen who were accused of participating in the stand-off at Drumcree and being involved in the setting up of road-blocks in other areas of Northern Ireland. Although this spread in the months following Drumcree 1996, it is particularly acute in counties Fermanagh and Tyrone, areas east of the Bann. The effects have been devastating for many Protestant businesses.

The other main consequence involved Harryville in Ballymena. Harryville is a predominantly Protestant housing estate in Ballymena, but has a small Catholic population and Catholic church. The Catholic church was targeted by Loyalist protestors every weekend between August 1996 and May 1998, in a campaign to prevent Catholic parishioners from attending mass. The Harryville protestors maintained that the protests would only stop once Loyalists are allowed to march through Dunloy. Similar protests occurred in Bushmills, Co. Antrim, but were less significant. Following a march in Dunloy the picket of the Catholic chruch was called off.

Events in Drumcree July 1995

Map of the Garvaghy Road area of Portadown, County Armagh

On Sunday 9 July 1995, for the first time in 188 years, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) prevented an Orange Order march from proceeding to Portadown on its way back from an annual church service at Drumcree. The Orangemen who had assembled at Drumcree refused to move away thus beginning a two day stand-off. More than 1,000 police officers were called to Drumcree in an attempt to ward off any ensuing trouble.

The stand-off continued the following day, 10 July, and there were sporadic outbreaks of rioting in Drumcree and other Loyalist areas throughout the North. In Drumcree stones and bottles were thrown at the police, and rioters attempted to break through the police barricades. The police fired 24 plastic bullets. All roads to Larne were blocked off, thus sealing off the whole port, at the expense of thousands of pounds to exporters and serious inconvenience to holiday makers. Meanwhile, thousands more Loyalists continued to arrive in Portadown, and the Orange Order leaders and senior police officers engaged in talks in an attempt to resolve the crisis. That evening a rally was held at Drumcree which was addressed by Ian Paisley. Later, Paisley and David Trimble attempted to break through police ranks at Drumcree Parish Church, but were prevented from doing so by riot squad officers and were taken away for further negotiations with senior police officers. Talks continued all through the night.

At 9.30am on 11 July the Leader of the Orange Order announced that the Parade could proceed along the Garvaghy Road but without any bands. A compromise had been reached with the help of members of the Mediation Network (Northern Ireland); this is an independent group set up in 1991 and funded by the Community Relations Council (CRC). The Mediation Network subsequently published a full statement on their role in these negotiations the following year. The agreement allowed the Orangemen to parade along that stretch of road on condition that they did so silently, without accompanying bands, and that an alternative route was taken the following day, that is, 'The Twelfth'. Nationalist protesters, who had until this time been sitting on the road, moved quietly aside and stood watching as approximately 500 brethren walked silently down the road led by unionist Members of Parliament David Trimble and Ian Paisley. However, when the parade reached the centre of Portadown Paisley and Trimble held their arms in the air in what appeared to be a gesture of triumph. This led to considerable ill-feeling among the residents of the Garvaghy Road.

On 12 July 1995 attention was deflected from Drumcree and focused on the Ormeau Road in Belfast. Hundreds of RUC men blocked residents of the lower Ormeau Road in Belfast into their homes, to accommodate the Orangemen from Balynafeigh Lodge. Approximately 150 Orangemen, accompanied by four bands, left Ballynafeigh Hall at 9.30am to parade along the Ormeau Road. However, Nationalist protesters attempted to stop them from reaching Ormeau Bridge and vehicles were hijacked and burned as they clashed with police. Rioting followed.


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within the University of Ulster.


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