Statement by the Mediation Network on their role in negotiations at Drumcree, 1995
[Key_Events] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
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AS practitioners for The Mediation Network for Northern Ireland we take pride in our ability to work impartially on behalf of the whole community. In the course of our work as a community relations agency we have been able to retain the trust and respect of individuals and organisations across the political divide including institutions of state such as the RUC.
Because of the sensitivity of our work we have been careful not to engage in a public exposition of our role in the stand-off at Drumcree in 1995. However, we now wish to make a public statement about the circumstances surrounding the successful outcome of last year's stand-off. We do so to honour an undertaking which we previously gave to the Garvaghy Road Residents Association and as a matter of professional integrity.
Brendan McAllister was originally invited into the developing conflict on the Garvaghy Road in June, 1995, by a member of the Garvaghy Road Residents group who asked him to assess the potential for mediation. Preliminary enquiries. led him to conclude that the conflict was not amenable to mediation at that time. However, he informed the Garvaghy Road Residents Association that he would observe the situation on the date of the Orange parade proposed for Sunday 9 July, 1995 and renew his efforts at the and of the marching season.
When the stand-off began on 9 July 1995, he discussed the situation with the officer in charge, Assistant Chief Constable Freddie Hall. On the afternoon of Monday 10 July, Mr Hall invited Mr McAllister to undertake crisis mediation and he agreed to do so with the assistance of his colleague, Mr Joe Campbell.
We began work at 5:30pm on Monday 10 July and engaged in 'shuttle mediation' between representatives of the Orange Order, the Garvaghy Road Residents Association and the RUC. Our various activities included attendance at a meeting with the RUC and Orange representatives as well as Mr David Trimble and Rev Ian Paisley.
By dawn on the morning of 11 July the situation was still deadlocked. We accompanied a chief superintendent to an impromptu meeting with Brendan McKenna and Eamon Stack S.J, leaders of the Garvaghy Road group and facilitated a series of exchanges. We remained on the Garvaghy Road and relied on the chief superintendent to engage with the Orange Order.
We were present when Brendan McKenna informed senior RUC officers of the Garvaghy Road group's intention to allow themselves to be physically removed from the road by police if the Orange parade recommenced.
As police began to liaise with Orange leaders concerning arrangements for the parade, we were joined at the scene by deputy chief constables Flanagan and Wallace. Mr Flanagan briefed us on the worsening situation elsewhere in Northern Ireland with delicate negotiations concerning parades on the Ormeau Road and a blockade of Larne. Mr Flanagan advised us that the way in which the Garvaghy Road dispute was concluded would have direct implications for the situation elsewhere. An angry scene between police and protesters could worsen the Ormeau marching dispute and even destabilise the ceasefires. It would be crucial that Garvaghy Road residents voluntarily remove themselves from the road without being constrained by the police. We advised Mr Flanagan to share these observations with the leader of the Garvaghy Road group, Brendan McKenna.
Subsequently Mr Flanagan repeated his views to Mr McKenna and Fr Eamon Stack in our presence. Mr McKenna agreed to request the protesters to remove themselves from the road on sight of the oncoming parade.
As Mr McKenna left to speak to the crowd, we observed to Mr Flanagan that the mood of the crowd was such that Mr McKenna would have difficulty persuading the protesters to accede to his request. Brendan McAllister observed that Mr McKenna would have more chances of success if protesters knew there would be no march on Garvaghy Road in 1996.
Mr Flanagan replied that there was no question of marches going where there was no consent from the community. We now believed that there would be no further marches on Garvaghy Road without the residents' consent. This statement was witnessed by Mr Campbell.
We then moved to hear Mr McKenna address the crowd. When he asked them to clear the road, numbers of protesters heckled him and refused his request. Mindful of the deputy chief constable's assessment of the possible consequences, for the wider situation in Northern Ireland, Brendan McAllister spoke to the crowd, advising them to trust Mr McKenna's leadership and encouraging them to engage in a dignified silent protest.
As the parade drew near, the protesters complied with these requests with a discipline which is a matter of public record.
In the autumn of 1995, after the marching season, we approached the Garvaghy Road residents to obtain their agreement to co-operate with our efforts to build a process which would lead to a consensus with the Orange Order. We agreed that if our efforts to establish dialogue were unsuccessful and a parade was forced down the road in 1996, we would bear public witness to the point of understanding which we had reached with Mr Flanagan.
During the past year we have made strenuous efforts to build a system of communication which could enable members of the Orange Order to engage in dialogue with the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition in Portadown and the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community group in Belfast.
Well placed individuals in the Orange Order advised us against a direct approach to the Portadown District. We recently learned that they had been misinformed about one of our efforts during the 1995 stand-off and did not sufficiently trust us, When we learned of this misunderstanding we were able to rectify the matter, to the satisfaction of Mr David Trimble.
We approached the Drumcree stand-off this year, struggling to overcome a wariness from both sides who feared that our efforts could result in a compromise which would be injurious to their interests.
This year we were in the vicinity of Drumcree throughout the stand-off, informing leaders on both sides that we would remain available in case the conditions for a credible mediation initiative should develop. However, we advised them that no such conditions yet existed. We were aware of the efforts of Archbishop Eames and were concerned because there was a danger of raising undue expectations.
We deeply regret the turn of events at Drumcree and their consequences for our fragile peace. As practitioners who have applied our energies to the marching conflict over the past year we wish to make the following observations.
Opportunities for mediation were not utilised at the Drumcree stand-off because both sides were fearful of its possible implications.
During the past year our efforts have been hindered by the inability of the Orange Order to recognise the bona fides of residents' groups such as the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition and the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community.
We believe that both residents' groups are an authentic representation of the feelings of large numbers of their respective neighbourhoods.
We acknowledge that both residents' groups have made strenuous efforts to address the marching conflict. We also acknowledge that a significant number of Orangemen at all levels of the Orange Order have made sincere efforts to address the problem and have fully co-operated with us.
However, the Orange Order is a cultural expression of unionism and consequently Orangemen will not engage in dialogue with those whom they view as republican while unionist politicians refuse to do so.
This has had tragic effects on our whole community and our response will be a litmus test of our maturity as a people who have suffered years of fruitless violence.
It is appropriate to enable the parties to this conflict to engage in dialogue without feeling that they have undermined their principles. This is a time when our capacities for restraint and sensitivity must be asserted over resurgent and divisive tribal loyalties.
The Mediation Network will continue to be a resource for dialogue
among all our people.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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