'On the Edge' edited by Neil Jarman (1996)
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
The following document has been contributed by permission of the author Neil Jarman. The views expressed in this book do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
These extracts are copyright Neil Jarman (1996) and are included
on the CAIN site by permission of the author and publishers. You may not edit, adapt,
or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use
without the express written permission of the author, and the publishers, Community Development Centre, Nort Belfast. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.
The Community Development Centre, North Belfast or CDC as it is better known was established in the early seventies. Its role has been to promote, support and develop a range of community responses to tackle social and economic disadvantage. The Centre is unique straddling as it does one of the most complex areas of Northern Ireland. North Belfast is characterised by its high number of interface areas and its history has been a bloody one. Some six hundred lives have been claimed over the past twenty seven years and community life has been seriously disrupted due to fear, suspicion and ongoing acts of violence.
Unlike many community organisations CDC has had to be proactive in its efforts to be inclusive of all sections of the North Belfast community. Rather than assume a passive or neutral role CDC has actively pursued an anti - sectarian policy and has continued to provide opportunities for increased dialogue and communication across the community.
An example of such work would be The North Belfast Interface Project. Established prior to the ceasefires of 1994 this initiative combines a range of single identity projects together with opportunities for inter community working aimed at addressing issues of peace-line living. The need to address issues affecting peace-line communities is a necessity given their increasing numbers and also the complex political I religious configuration of interface areas in North Belfast. At no time was this more apparent than during the summer of 1996. Whilst the focus of attention in Northern Ireland in early July was Drumcree and Garvaghy Road it wasn't long before events there began to have a serious effect on peace-line communities in North Belfast. During those first few weeks in July North Belfast experienced gross acts of inter communal violence, rioting and some eighty seven families left their homes. In the main these families lived in interface areas, areas which were predominantly Protestant but into which Catholic families had moved in recent years. The majority of displaced families were Catholic, however, a number of Protestants families also suffered the same fate.
Throughout this period CDC found itself at the centre of a community response to these events. CDC staff together with local community activists became involved in a major operation which involved supporting and counselling families, setting up co-ordinating machinery to deal with issues of temporary accommodation, replacement housing and arranging financial support. Liaison, lobbying and negotiations with statutory departments and government were critical during that period as was the need to support local community activists attempting to deal with a range of issues at local neighbourhood level. This work was to continue through the summer and into the winter.
There was nothing glamorous or heroic about any of this work. If anything it was painstaking. Other planned work had to be set aside. It was deeply traumatic for those involved and on some occasions it became more sinister with people having their own personal security compromised.
Once things began to settle down and following a range of meetings held between August and October a number of issues emerged which CDC as an organisation considered needed to be addressed. These include:
Many of the families caught up in the crisis felt abandoned. Once the immediate crisis was over their needs, fears, trauma were forgotten about. Many of these people have returned to CDC on many occasions simply to talk about what happened and their current circumstances. Despite their own plight several found the time to call in to thank staff and community activists for their support and to send thank you notes to the Centre.
For every event that happened there were numerous versions or interpretations of the events which give rise to the violence.
Many individuals and communities felt they had been misrepresented by the press and that press coverage had heightened fears and intentions.
Some community activists felt let down by others in the community sector. They felt their roles had been wrongly interpreted and that much misinformation was in circulation.
There was anxiety and frustration at the responses from various statutory groups to the situation. This was most keenly felt by members of The Families in Crisis Group, an ad hoc group established to liaise between families and the various bodies with responsibilities for dealing with intimidation and civil unrest.
Outstanding issues needed to be addressed with regards to policing and longer term issues such as the need to address peace-line living in the future.
For CDC itself a number of issues arose in terms of misinformation about the role the organisation played together with the need to address training and development of our own staff in anti - sectarian work. CDC took a lot of flak and severe criticism from some community activists for either not doing enough, doing nothing or doing too much. Some of our most outspoken critics were people who had not been active during the summer and others who refused to recognise the sensitivities of dealing with such situations when you are accountable to the very communities who are engaging in violence. As one member of the CDC's Management Executive stated at one very tense meeting "We seem to be holding CDC responsible for everything that happens in North Belfast. If we couldn't talk to each other at the local level, how could we expect the staff at CDC to engage people in meaningful dialogue".
CDC's response to the summer has been to commission an independent inquiry. A panel of four was selected and invited to interview a range of families, individuals, political leaders, church leaders and community activists. Specifically we asked the panel to take on board four matters.
Firstly - to provide people with an opportunity to give their version of events so that these could be shared with others.
Secondly - to consider the appropriateness of the responses to the crisis amongst statutory bodies and other key players.
Thirdly - to identify from the submissions issues which the community sector could address to improve communication and dialogue within the area.
Fourth - to consider the responses required from the statutory and other key sectors in order to minimise hardship during periods of civil unrest.
Our four panelists, Duncan Morrow, Prof. Eithne McLaughlin, Joe Law and Neil Jarman were selected for their knowledge and experience of community and social policy issues. Giving their time voluntarily they held a serious of local interviews together with meetings at CDC at which people could present their submissions. "On the Edge" is the first of a two part report prepared by the Inquiry Team. Part I addresses the perceptions held of the events of the summer. Not everyone will agree with the various accounts as they are presented. We would not expect them to! What is important is that readers get an opportunity to consider these events from a different perspective and to see whether there are any actions which their community, community group, church, political party or other grouping can take to prevent such incidents re-occuring in the future. Part II of the report will be published in the Autumn and will focus on responses from statutory bodies and other key agencies. It must be reported that the statutory sector was reluctant to engage with the Inquiry. Attempts to engage the statutory sector in looking at contingency arrangements for the summer of 1997 also proved problematic. The Community sector was to learn that an inter statutory group had been meeting but that no attempt to include representatives from the community sector despite the latters central role in the proceedings last year. Due to the complexities of some of the issues raised, the panel agreed to write the report in two parts to ensure that these matters are adequately addressed.
The decision to hold the Inquiry has not been without its critics, some people felt the process was flawed due to the short notice given and lack of community consultation. This was later addressed through an extended period for submissions and by the Director meeting with a variety of local groups. Others felt that we should put the summer behind us, in other words put things on the back burner. The problem of putting things on the back burner is that they tend to flare up again, when the flames were lit last year North Belfast erupted. Given current community tensions it would nor take much for this situation to reoccur. People are still living "on the edge" not just physically but also mentally and psychologically. Whilst it is acknowledged that the community sector has limited influence when it comes to dealing with those who are intent upon using violence or instilling fear in local people we have a role to play in improving communication and understanding and ultimately for attempting to create some form of solidarity amongst disadvantaged communities.
The Community Development Centre trusts that the report of the Community Inquiry will do just that. CDC acknowledges the work of the panel team and we appreciate the time and commitment they have made to this initiative. We are indebted to those community activists and political leaders who through their participation have shown a willingness to engage in a community led exercise aimed at improving understanding and finally to those families and individuals who came forward. We sincerely hope that this summer will be very different from that of 1996.
Orange Order marches have often attracted controversy in Northern Ireland. At times of high inter-communal tension, the marches have a tendency to become the focus of antagonism, and events around them can become violent. The marching season of 1996 was a particularly tense period throughout the six counties with violence breaking out at a number of flashpoints. Disputes in one part of Northern Ireland can result in riots in other places, particularly at interfaces between Catholic and Protestant communities. North Belfast has many such interfaces and, as a result, has frequently experienced trouble in the event of disturbances elsewhere. Nevertheless, the scale and extent of the violence in the Summer of 1996 took even experienced observers by surprise and left many residents traumatised and frightened.
The 'Tour of the North' march through contested parts of North Belfast in June 1996 was the scene of the earliest of the outbreaks of street violence. Inter-communal tension arising from the wider political impasse came to its high point one month later when an Orange Order march at Drumcree near Portadown was blocked by the RUC and a four-day stand-off ensued. Demonstrations across Northern Ireland by supporters of the Orangemen at Drumcree resulted in major civil unrest, the blocking of many roads and serious damage to property. When the RUC reversed their decision, the result was widespread rioting by Nationalists. The result was greatly raised tensions and antagonism between the communities with the recurrent potential for trouble between rival gangs when the opportunity arose. In the third of the disturbances, in August 1996, there were serious clashes on the Limestone Road, one of the North Belfast interfaces where the tension remained high throughout the summer.
The serious violence raised many questions and resulted in a series of new problems. The deterioration in inter-community relations and the widespread anger and frustration on all sides caused serious problems for many community projects. Tension remained high in many areas with the constant threat of a recurrence of violence. The reaction of statutory agencies to the emergencies was viewed by many community groups and individuals as inadequate. Furthermore, the failure to resolve the disputes at the core of the problem meant that future marching seasons were viewed with trepidation and fear throughout North Belfast.
This report arises from these difficult circumstances. The task of the Community Inquiry was to take evidence from across the community in North Belfast about the experiences of the events of the summer of 1996 and to compile a report which would reflect those experiences. Secondly, the Inquiry would examine the experience within communities of the response of the variety of groups and agencies charged with providing for and responding to specific social needs. This document represents the first part of that task. A second part of the report will appear in the course of 1997.
The Community Inquiry sought to draw evidence from the widest possible range of sources. From the outset, it was agreed that evidence would be taken from both individuals and groups and in both written and oral form. In order to facilitate the giving of oral evidence the Community Development Centre North Belfast organised twelve different venues throughout North Belfast at which evidence could be given at various times during the week of the 16-20 December 1996. During late November and early December over three hundred community groups were notified by post of the plans for the Inquiry and they were invited to present evidence. In addition, elected representatives and statutory organisations were contacted to request that they make presentations to the Inquiry. In spite of widespread concerns about the subject matter of the Inquiry, there was a generally positive response from the community groups and we received evidence from many sources.
The approach nevertheless had a number of problems. In the first place the timing of the Inquiry meant that evidence was to be taken in the immediate run-up to Christmas. This had serious implications for the timetables of both individuals and groups. As a result, although there were many venues, there were occasions on which the number of respondents was disappointingly low. Second, elected representatives proved very difficult to pin down and although several came to present material during the week in December, there were still serious gaps from the point of view of a comprehensive survey. Thirdly, statutory agencies were extremely wary of the Community Inquiry. At this stage, we can only speculate on the reasons for this reticence. However, the continuing defensiveness of statutory agencies appears to us to be counter-productive.
As a result of these shortcomings, we adjusted and extended our plans for the Inquiry. Where there were obvious gaps, we sought to make contact with community groups in specific areas. These were relatively few, but it did result in a much-extended timetable for the report. In the case of elected representatives, we made considerable efforts to ensure that all significant political groupings were represented among the evidence. As a result of increasing scale and complexity of the inquiry, we decided to publish the first part of this report without input from statutory agencies and to publish our investigation of issues relating to their work at a later date.
This first report analyses the riots and disturbances which took place across North Belfast during the Summer of 1996. It is arranged in chronological order, beginning with the events surrounding the Tour of the North' in June and concluding with the riots on the Limestone Road in August. The events in North Belfast associated with the stand-off at Drumcree in July form the bulk of the evidence and the submissions are presented on an area by area basis.
The report tries to reflect the evidence as it was presented to the Inquiry in as impartial and comprehensive a manner as possible. It is beyond the capacity of the report to determine responsibility for specific events. Nevertheless, by enabling people to recount their version of events and then setting them alongside other contrasting interpretations of what happened, it may allow some light to be thrown on these divergent understandings. Through this report, we hope to present a more comprehensive picture of the experience of events than has been possible up until now. It is our further hope that this publication will also highlight possible options for future intervention which might prevent a recurrence of similar violence and thereby minimise the serious consequences for individuals and communities.
North Belfast is an interface area with more flashpoints than in the west or east or south. On a weekend basis there is always flashpoint areas such as Newington, Parkside Gardens, Limestone Road and occasionally Duncairn Gardens. These are ongoing things. Normally those involved would be teenagers.
The first of the major public disturbances in North Belfast in 1996 occurred on Friday 22 June after the Orange Order's Tour of the North parade. Nationalist protesters blocked Clifton Park Avenue to try to stop the parade. They were removed from the road by the RUC and after the parade had passed sporadic rioting occurred in the area of the junction of Cliftonville Road and the Antrim Road.
The Tour of the North is held every two years, it is one of a number of mini-Twelfth parades in Belfast. The Orangemen assemble at Clifton Street Orange Hall and parade up Crumlin Road before walking the contested area of Clifton Park Avenue, Cliftonville Road, Antrim Road and Duncairn Gardens. The remainder of the parade along North Queen Street and York Road and the return via Donegall Street is uncontentious.
Objections were raised to the parade from within the nationalist community, who claimed it caused some disruption to their daily life.
What had happened on previous years is that the army and the RUC just blocked and screened every street off Same as they do on Clifton Street and Unity Flats, there was RUC at every street and every corner and Manor Street and Cliftonville Road, the whole way down the street (Cliftonville resident)
The police and army simply put a shield around the area. Between the Waterworks and where I live which is less than a mile, I used to get stopped three times just trying to get home when there were parades on (Nationalist politician).
It was also claimed that the parade had been a regular flashpoint for violence in the area.
People were going as far back as ten, fifteen, twenty years to the origins of the march, to 'I remember such and such a house getting burnt or petrol bombed and I remember wee Joey or Jimmy down the street who was beaten up on the night by six Orangemen who were drunk' (Nationalist politician).
In 1972 it caused a week of non-stop rioting and the RUC banned it on this basis, the march was later resurrected although I can't understand why (Nationalist politician).
Although many of the memories of previous years often appeared rather vague and anecdotal, the approaching parade produced real concerns.
People were sitting down and thinking 'We don't want this to take place, we are afraid because we have been attacked and intimidated, and harassed by the security forces in the past' (Nationalist politician).
Protestants expressed some surprise at the objections to the parade, which they felt had not caused any problems in the past. Furthermore they were suspicious of the motives of the protesters and they stated that the protests only served to exacerbate the disruption to the local community.
Even back into the '70s my recollection was that it was a fairly quiet parade. The only thing in 1986 was there was trouble later on in the summer in the Manor Street area, but that was some weeks after the Tour of the North parade (Orangeman).
We've marched in the Tour of the North for twenty seven years. The trouble has been going on for twenty seven years. It's only this last two years all this trouble started over marching. It's just another phase in their campaign (Grove area).
The contentious piece would be from Clifton Park Avenue, the second ha If of Clifton Park down to the top of the Gardens, it would take ten minutes to walk it, fifteen at the most but yet because of peoples intention to disrupting it they have to close it for five to six hours. If you had to work with people and they could agree and their word could be taken, there would be 'no disruption and there would be no trouble (Duncairn resident).
Some members of the nationalist community agreed with some aspects of the sentiments expressed from with the Protestant community.
The parade only takes place every two )'ears and I don 't think it had taken place for a number of years. I don't think peoples perception of it was 'there is a parade coming here, we'll go out and protest'. It was only because a certain element made it an issue to protest against it and then they organised the community and heightened the awareness of the parade and created the fear and atmosphere (Cliftonville resident).
Although people felt that the Orangemen had a right to have their parade, it was also felt that the route had already changed because of changing demographics and the organisers should acknowledge the changes that have continued to transform the area.
I have lived in Manor Street all my life, the area was always a mixed community, it had an Orange Lodge, it had a British Legion, and it was all part and parcel of the community in the early '60s and '70s. The route varied with the changes in the area, it used to cut down Brookvale Avenue and Eia Street and straight down Duncairn Gardens (Manor Street resident).
This area would have been more a mixed population in years gone by, so it would have reflected mixed religions, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant. Now this area is almost 100% Catholic/Nationalist/Republican. We don't like Orange marches going through our area because we are Catholics, we don't share or have empathy with it culturally, traditionally or religiously (Nationalist politician).
If they march straight down the Crumlin Road and round York Street and back round, it probably wouldn't bother anybody. It's the fact that they want to walk through the middle of a Nationalist area, just to make a point (Cliftonville resident).
The majority of submissions from the Protestant community took issue with the view that the parade route took in a nationalist area.
It's a commercial area. You have two schools, two churches and then you have basically commercial buildings (Community Worker, Grove area).
You have a Protestant Church, a voluntary Grammar School, a Salvation Army Home. You have commercial premises, dental surgeries, the Jaffa Centre. So to me this stretch of road is a mixed area and therefore neutral. When you go onto the Antrim Road there is the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Protestant Church Hall and further along you have the Baptist Church. So to me, that is a main arterial route and I think that the Orange Order would want to differentiate between main arterial routes and exclusively nationalist areas (Unionist Councillor).
It's no nationalist area - how could you turn around a main Protestant church followed by one of the biggest Protestant schools in the Cliftonville Road? You have the Salvation Army Home, the old Jaffa School, donated by the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Belfast, most of the houses have been turned into office blocks and on the corner of Clifton park Avenue you have the Simon Community. So you couldn't say any of those places were Nationalist (Community Activist, Ballysillan).
Two submissions - one from a unionist community activist and one from an activist in the nationalist community - were concerned about the potential risk to those who marched because of the route that was being taken.
If someone takes a pot shot at them or if somebody throws a device or something what is the consequences of that. How the hell will all those people get out of the middle of a nationalist area - the RUC wouldn't have enough manpower to control anything like that (Cliftonville resident).
While the unionist reaffirmed his belief that the Orange Order had a right to march, he had real concerns about the Tour of the North.
Personally I don't agree with the Tour of the North because I think it is very dangerous. I think it isolates people in an area where, if the parade is volatile, people could be killed. For a long piece of that parade they are on their own and wouldn't have any sort of friendly faces in there (Unionist activist).
Both of these individuals suggested that the obvious solution would be for community groups to engage in some form of dialogue with the parade organisers and the police to try to defuse this potential threat. However other submissions resisted talk of compromise. They claimed that the opposition to the parade was part of a larger campaign to drive them from the area completely. One submission noted that not so long ago much of the contested section of the route was regarded as a Protestant area and that the issue to be defended was not so much about the parade but about territory.
At one time the whole of Duncairn Gardens was all Protestant, Clifton Park Avenue, the front of the Cliftonville Road, the whole area, even in fact many people in the New Lodge. The parade sort of skirts the boundaries of our territory, with this thing happening here we are being pushed this way further and the next thing will be 'there is no need for a parade there because there is nobody lives there now and this is an ongoing thing for twenty five years that people are being pushed further and further north.
It's not a question of people standing to watch bands, it's a question of once you give that piece of ground up, it's lost. The next time the Tour of the North will walk down the Limestone Road and in another fifteen years there will be nothing here and in another fifteen years it will be Alexandra Park Avenue (Duncairn area).
The feeling that the Protestant community was under pressure in North Belfast, that there was a concerted attempt to get them to move out to the suburbs, was something that was reiterated time and time again. This was clearly a major factor affecting how Protestants reacted to the events of the Summer of 1996 and will be dealt with more fully below.
The first public indications that there would be some opposition to the parade appeared sometime in May.
When the painting went up on the gable wall in Clifton Park Avenue, I think it was 'Prods keep out' or something to that effect, and they started to paint the kerbstones round where the Corporation yard is (Orangeman).
Around the same time nationalist politicians from the area responded to requests by local people who were beginning to express concerns,
ranging from why the march should take place, about the side effects of it taking place, people worried about life and property.
I was approached by a number of people from the area, community activists, wanting to know what they could do to oppose the march. I suggested first of all a survey of the area the march was going through to see what the people in the area felt. They needed to set themselves some form of committee by calling a public meeting to get themselves elected (Nationalist politician).
A range of people, including the residents group tried, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to open a dialogue with the Orange Order about six weeks before the event'. One working group involving people from both communities and church leaders drew up an alternative route.
They all agreed that the Orangemen would still go into Duncairn Gardens, they would still tour North Belfast, but they were not coming down the Cliftonville and along the top of the New Lodge Road and past Newington.
We were only interested in safety and peace in North Belfast. We had the people in the community agreeing. We also had it arranged with the police, we gave them the re-routing suggestions and everyone agreed, virtually all the paramilitaries had agreed that this was a reasonable route (Antrim Road community worker).
Although this plan was presented to a local member of the Orange Order, the organisation did not respond formally to the suggestions.
From the Orange side, a member of the Order criticised the attempts by the residents group to contact the parade organisers. He noted that most of the letters were sent to the wrong people or to the wrong organisation and they arrived too late to have any effect. Furthermore he noted that organisation for the parade had begun the previous September.
If you are thinking about change or altering anything you need to be thinking a year at least, or maybe two years ahead.
He claimed that waiting until six to eight weeks before the parade left too little time to reach any agreement. Nevertheless some unionist politicians say that they did try to open up dialogue with people from the nationalist area. However, before long the people;
who were in the middle ground trying to sort the thing out were pushed aside and the hardliners took the ground from the New Lodge side and it made it impossible. There was no way that myself or other people could then be involved, it would have been political suicide (Duncairn area).
Suspicions within the unionist community were raised further firstly
when an application to use the park, Alexandra Park, on the night of the parade
was received by the City Council, and then when it was found that the address of the organiser was also used by the residents group opposing the parade.
The intention was to organise this folk festival, folk concert, which was obviously going to draw people from the Falls, from Ardoyne, out to Newtownabbey, all into the area at the same time as the parade. It showed that there were people obviously intent on stirring things up and orchestrating confrontation (Unionist politician).
Nationalists agree that there was a hardening of attitudes from within the protesting groups but claim that it was the refusal of the Orange Order to address the concerns of the local people that lead to this.
Other individuals were coming into it who would have been more extremist in their views: 'We're not speaking to the RUC, we're not speaking to the Orange Order we ye given them their opportunity, they don't want to talk to us, we're not letting this march go through' (Nationalist politician).
In practical terms this refusal to engage in dialogue, and the lack of any formal structure through which dialogue might be constructed, made confrontation on the street more likely.
The police were also criticised from the nationalist community for refusing to make a decision whether the parade would go ahead or not. One nationalist politician felt he was given the run around when he tried to get an indication of how the parade and protest would be dealt with. Local police commanders said the decision would be taken higher up, while those at a higher levels said it was a local responsibility.
They opened negotiations with the RUC, they went to the Antrim Road barracks who said they had a democratic right to protest, but the RUC instructions was to see the march going through. Only the Secretary of State can ban or give the go ahead, the RUC can only advise on the conditions on the ground (Nationalist politician).
However the NIO was equally reticent about intervening. No decisions were made public prior to the parade.
The Night of the Parade
Although people on the Protestant side felt that there was no real desire or attempt to reach accommodation by those organising the protests, they did try to ensure that there would be no trouble from people within their community on the night of the parade.
On the Tour of the North parade there was no violence. There was no confrontation from the Protestant or loyalist community. There was no confrontation whatsoever with anyone. Our party plus the PUP and other representatives met the police the week before and what the police was asking for, if we could get the word about through public representation to try and keep this calm. And it was calm. It was calm in the Protestant areas (Duncairn area).
Community activists got at the end of Manor Street and waited at Duncairn Gardens and kept the youths away who had the carry-outs. There was no followers going through with the bands. Anyone with carry-outs was kept well out of the area and it went through peacefully No trouble (Grove area).
There is no secret about it, the UV's patrolled Orange parades, and that was with Orange peoples permission, but they patrolled mainly the hangers-on to ensure that they don't go past a certain point, where they don't get involved in stone throwing and an)'thing that would have been nasty (Unionist politician).
The PUP assured us that if the parade went ahead they would actually man the parade, the Orange march, making sure there was no-one on the kerb, drinking beer and try and make sure no Orangemen or anyone in the parade was going to do anything offensive (Antrim Road activist).
A member of the Orange Order agreed that there was no trouble at the parade from the Protestant side, but gives a somewhat different slant.
It was a very good parade. It was well disciplined. It was well marshalled. There were no difficulties as far as I am aware, the Orange Order did a very good job. There were no hangers-on at any of the difficult areas. I think the thing went ahead quite well.
The experience of the parade from the nationalists perspective was quite different.
The march eventually went through between 7.30 and 8pm but Catholic areas on the Duncairn Gardens, Antrim Road, Cliftonville Road had no parking signs put outside their houses, people were told they would get parking tickets if they put their cars there. So in a sense where organisers or the RUC said this would only disrupt the life of north Belfast for twenty minutes, the operation went into place from lunchtime (Nationalist politician).
I couldn't stay in my house because of it, because they were blocking off the whole road for like five or six hours and were not letting anybody move in or out and I had to actually leave my home because of it (Clifton Park Avenue resident).
This person was also critical of the scale of the policing that was required to ensure the parade would be able to take place.
They must have had about sixty Land Rovers. They just lined the whole street and up the side street and then the army came in with big canopies to block off the streets.
The protesters gathered in Clifton Park Avenue in the early evening. Last minute attempts to get the parade rerouted were unsuccessful so they held a sit down protest to block the road.
I thought it was going to be a peaceful demonstration and as we were standing there, there was barricades behind us and we were there for maybe an hour and everyone kind of linked arms and sat on the road (Protester).
The RUC were speaking to Sinn Féin councillors and trying to get it sorted out and one of the guys who had been speaking to the police just turned round and said 'right everyone sit down, it's a peaceful demonstration 'and at that point everyone sat down and just linked arms (Protester).
The atmosphere changed however when the RUC decided to clear the road to let the parade pass through. Although the police did ask people to remove themselves from the road when they failed to move the police moved in to clear them.
The RUC told them to clear the road or to move onto the footpath. People just simply were standing about at that stage - within a couple of minutes they started positioning multiple rows of Land Rovers both in Clifton Park Avenue and on the Cliftonville Road, they began to hem the people in (Nationalist politician).
Everyone just sat there and didn't give up and they just joined hands and the next thing just a big wave, a wave of cops came in - they were all holding on to each other - it was like military, like paramilitary really and they came in and they just beat all round them if you didn't get up (Protester).
The police came down and walked right hand onto the person in front's right arm so they had two rows and maybe 30 altogether They had the riot gear on and just turned to face the crowd. We were kind of stuck in the middle, that's why I was starting to get really frightened, cause they were coming to the people at the front and they were pulling away at us (Protester).
There was a lot of criticism of the manner in which the police removed the protesters from the road.
They just simply gave a brief warning and waded in, in riot gear the police were wearing their shin pads, knee pads. They put their fingers into peoples nostrils and pulled their noses back (Nationalist politician).
People were getting pulled by the ears and by the nostrils and they had like pressure points on their neck so the police were actually grabbing them by the neck so they couldn't breathe (Protester).
My ears were cut at the back because they grabbed me by the ears, lifting me up and they just punched me in the face. When anything happened they just ran over and bashed people (Protester).
I myself received a broken wrist when being pulled of the road, the RUC man said this would stop me in future blocking any marches (Nationalist politician).
On the left-hand side there was lots of women and children that the police were kicking and manhandling out of the way and this one woman was holding on to the jeep and a policeman walked over and grabbed her by the leg and she still wouldn't let go but she wasn't kicking, she was holding onto the bottom, the metal grid, and a second police officer came over and grabbed her right leg, so these two policemen were pulling her by the legs, she still wouldn't let go and a third officer walked and said 'Oh so you think you're fucking tough' and kicked her in between the legs. At that point she was crying and stuff and I just thought 'fuck that' and I just walked out of the demonstration (Protester).
I personally believed that the RUC behaved in a disgusting manner I saw one woman being manhandled in a way that you or I would be charged with. Quite literally her T-shirt was pulled off her (Nationalist politician)
I was only standing about twenty feet from Gerry Kelly and he was simply standing there having a chat with somebody and a number of police simply pulled him to the ground, there was no provocation. The police certainly were behaving irresponsibly because somebody like Kelly is one of their main negotiators and simply in front of hundreds of people the RUC, seven or eight officers had him pinned to the ground applying pressure to the pressure points almost choking him. At that stage I thought the crowd would actually start a riot (Nationalist Politician).
You were shaking because you were waiting, just waiting on them coming getting you. You seen everyone at the front getting battered, you were just waiting to get beat (Protester).
It took about an hour and a half to remove everyone. But the protesters won the day because when there were probably about thirty of them left they simply got up and walked away (Nationalist Politician).
People were also critical of the way the police used their Land Rovers, after they had cleared the protesters from the road, to move people away from the area and keep them controlled and away from the parade route.
They began to squeeze the crowd and started driving their Land Rovers, inching them forward against the crowd, especially at Clifton Park Avenue where the Simon Community is, where people actually went into a corner and the Land Rovers actually moved forward. You are talking Land Rovers three or four rows deep, edging forward into the crowd, which is very dangerous (Nationalist Politician).
At one stage there was about twelve jeeps in rows of three, because there were four lines of them, and the)' were inching their way down the Antrim Road so any protesters that were behind the barricade would be all pushed down, so they were all together in this one wee section where all the police were (Protester).
I thought that it was more frightening at Rossi 's where the jeeps were, there was women, mothers who were trying to get through to see if their children were with the demonstrators and the police wouldn't let them through and people trying to get away from the trouble couldn't get through either because the police just stood between the jeeps and anyone trying to get through they just blocked the way (Protester).
However clearing the road for the parade was not the end of the confrontation in the area as some sporadic rioting broke out.
They were marching down and everybody started fucking going mad because they wouldn't let us ones just walk up the road and then buses and all came up - they tried to burn a bus in the New Lodge and burnt a van just outside McLaughlin 's and then there was loads of petrol bombs (Protester).
When they finally had cleared it then there were small outbreaks of rioting, stone throwing taking place. I have seen serious rioting and in the immediate aftermath it wasn't serious rioting (Nationalist politician).
There was also criticism of the interpretation that was put on the violence that night by the police.
The police and Stormont of course began to put out as 'its nothing but a Provo orchestrated thing'. Now as 1 so)', there was no violence, no petrol bombs at where the protest was taking place. I know petrol bombs were like flying later that night and there were key people, senior members in Ardoy'ne and all over there, not just of Sinn Féin, of the IRA, but still the)' stood and didn't do anything (Nationalist Politician).
The world media were there and the)' were all in the gardens and the RUC press were telling their side of the story, you know so man)' officers injured and the way the protesters had handled the situation - it was a totally different perception of what I had seen and what other people had seen (Cliftonville resident).
The same person suggested that while the police were probably justified in clearing the road of the protesters, there was a problem with how it was done and saw a direct correlation between the behaviour of the police in removing the protesters and the later violence in the area.
I did go down to Clifton Park Avenue and observe the protest and I did think that the RUC handled the situation very, very badly. They were very over-handed, you know very very heavy. It created a lot of ill feeling, a lot of hatred within a community that was relatively peaceful. It created a lot of tension within the community which brought the kids out on the street to riot, created trouble on the Cliftonville Road, created trouble on Clifton Park Avenue which eventually led on to communities getting burned or people getting burned out of the flats on Clifton Park Avenue.
The events preceding and surrounding the Tour of the North brought into the open many of the issues that would remain at the fore over the following few months: the deep rift between the two communities in North Belfast, the diverse perceptions of what various actions meant and the reason why certain things were done, the strong sense of territory, the sense that communities felt under threat and the feeling of traditional practices being challenged, the hostility felt towards the RUC, and the almost impossible notion that there could be any kind of agreed outcome to the dispute.
Some suggestions were offered as a way to avoid confrontation over future Tour of the North parades.
There are groups and individuals in this area, who have the ability and the will to come together There has to be some form of officiating body to be able to call in those individuals to a forum, a forum that's neutral, that people feel safe with, because I will accept this point from the Orange Order the)' felt the)' were being brought into a trap (Nationalist politician).
I think the community groups, the actual genuine community groups should be asked to discuss it and the Orange Order the police, everybody who is connected with it should be involved (Cliftonville resident)
One positive thing is that there should be some sort of programme that the Orange Order could take on board with the help of CRC/CCRU and have an outreach programme whereby people could go forward and go to a meeting in Ardoyne Community Centre or North Queen Street or whatever and set their stall out and say this is what our culture is (Unionist politician).
The Secretary of State should say 'Right we'll set up a recognised committee in each area, for the like of North Belfast six or eight politicians, one or two from each area and say 'You are the negotiating body for that area for parades and whatever' and whenever we make a decision and an agreement that's the way it will be and if it doesn't work then we carry the can for it (Unionist politician).
The failure to reach any form of agreement over the route that the parade should take led to serious disturbances when the RUC removed protesters from Clifton Park Avenue to allow the Orangemen to pass through. The rioting that continued into the night was contained within a relatively small geographical area and the disturbances did not continue into the following day.
Although the area appeared to return to normal, the tensions remained. Nationalists were angry at both the decision to allow the parade to go ahead against their wishes, and what was perceived as over aggressive behaviour on behalf of the RUC. Members of the unionist community were largely happy with the decision that was taken over the Tour of the North, however disputes over other parade routes across the North meant that they felt that their culture and 'traditions' were continually under threat.
The decision to stop the Portadown Orangemen from walking down the Garvaghy Road on 6 July was felt to be 'a step too far' by Orangemen and many others within the Protestant and unionist community. Protests, in the form of marches, road blocks and other public demonstrations of anger engulfed much of Northern Ireland. North Belfast was no exception, the protests and the ensuing, often violent, confrontations affected much of the area over the following week. During this period over one hundred families were forced to leave their homes and there was extensive damage both to property and, more significantly, to already fragile community relations.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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