Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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(4) PORTADOWN 1985 & 1986: PARADES & CIVIL DISTURBANCES
The Political Environment
Both governments had been making their own attempts to resolve the situation in Northern Ireland. The British government introduced the Northern Ireland Assembly in October 1982. The Assembly had few constitutional powers and was at various times boycotted by both the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). The New Ireland Forum had been set up in March 1983 by the Irish government but the UUP, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and the Alliance Party all refused invitations. The report was published in May 1984 but was rejected by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Prior, in July 1984, and by a rude and obdurate Thatcher in November 1984 at the end of an Anglo-Irish summit.
The electoral threat from Sinn Féin was also significant at the level of local councils. The forthcoming council elections in May 1985 may have been an added factor in the participation of Craigavon’s mayor in a demonstration against a St Patrick’s Day parade in Portadown on 17 March 1985.
St Patrick’s Day 1985
The events of St Patrick’s day seemed to have been put to one side by the provincial daily press as the build up to the July marching season commenced, although interestingly it did remain an issue in the columns of The Portadown Times." But quite clearly parade re-routing was on the agenda and both James Molyneaux, leaderof the Ulster Unionists, and Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, found it necessary to comment on the situation in June when they both attended a meeting with Secretary of State Douglas Hurd to protest at proposed police action to curb ‘traditional’ parades. They also expressed fears over security and the outcome of the Anglo-Irish talks. They are reported to have told Hurd that agitators were playing on fears in new housing estates recently occupied by Roman Catholics. Molyneaux said that he was not against action on irresponsible parades but believed there to be no case for objecting to traditional marches. Belfast County Grand Master Thomas Passmore (UUP Assembly member) suggested that Hurd was in complete ignorance of Orange traditions and ‘does not realise the trouble he is storing up for himself'. Harold McCusker, MP for Upper Bann (UUP), referring to Portadown, argued that ‘the decision to re-route this traditional Orange ‘walk’ away from the area is being seen as something symbolic of something much bigger’.In short, unionist politicians were clearly prepared to use re-routing as a demonstrative expression of vital political issues.
Portadown was not the only spot under scrutiny as Castlewellan, Downpatrick, Cookstown, and West Belfast were all to become sites of confrontation in the following days. Indeed, a loyalist band parade through Castlewellan ended in rioting on 27 June with George Seawright (Belfast councillor expelled from the DUP in 1984) and John McMichael (a UDA leader) attempting to mediate with police. However, in Portadown it was the Drumcree Church parade which posed the most obvious point of confrontation. On 27 June a 64 man Action Committee, made up of local Orangemen in Portadown, met and discussed the alternative routes given to them by the RUC for the church parade. Interestingly, there seemed to be no suggestion as far as the RUC was concerned that the Garvaghy Road was an issue. The Action Committee confirmed that there would be a protest rally on 3 July and a large advertisement to that effect appeared in The Newsletter on the 29th, specifying a ‘monster Orange rally’ in Portadown centre, regalia to be worn, and a short service to be held in front of St Marks church.
Although no official decision had been taken on the re-routing of the Portadown parades, reports suggested that Orangemen were already preparing to make it a test case and that the police were preparing for a ‘loyalist revolt’ with 14 more Divisional Mobile Support Units (DMSUs) being set up and being trained in the use of anti-riot plastic bullets. Indeed the RUC’s policy over parades became a subject of much speculation and the DMSUs were at the centre of this, including rumours that they were being filled with ‘hand picked’ Catholics. There was also a persistent rumour that Gardai wearing RUC uniforms would be on duty at the parades. Indeed, it is worth bearing these rumours in mind because they were not the last to crop up concerning the policing of Portadown.
By 1 July after comments from Seamus Mallon MP(SDLP) on RTE specifying the right of the Dublin government to make representations to the British government over parades, McCusker was arguing that the RUC was acting at the behest of Irish Foreign Minister Peter Barry. The next day the DUP called a special news conference and claimed that they had reliable information that parade re-routing had been discussed at the secret Anglo-Irish intergovernmental talks, and that the SDLP had been consulted in the drawing up of a list of parades to be targeted that included Portadown, Castlewellan, Cookstown and Armagh. The following day Hurd walked out of a meeting after being called a liar by Gregory Campbell (DUP Assembly member) after having denied Dublin involvement in policing decisions. The UVF and UDA also issued a joint statement saying that they would oppose re-routing. Broadly speaking the Alliance and SDLP supported re-routing, as did Sinn Féin although they were of course suspicious of RUC motives and critical of the lack of consultation with Obins street residents.
Although there appears to have been some rioting afterwards, the protest meeting in Portadown on 3 July was peaceful and over the few days prior to the church parade various attempts at conciliation were made. McCusker suggested that attempts would be made to reduce provocation in the parade by ensuring that the ‘hangers-on’ were dealt with, and he welcomed the distinction made by Hurd between traditional Orange marches, that is, those under the auspices of the Orange Institution and many of the newer parades organised by bands. The RUC published a statement which emphatically asserted that decisions taken on parades were professional police decisions and that there was no ‘policy, plan, or intention’ to suppress loyalist parades. The deal that seemed to be most likely was one that allowed the Church parade through Obins Street but re-routed the parades on the 12th and 13th, although there were denials from local Orangemen that this would be accepted. Alternatively some Orangemen suggested that the eight lodges that march through Obins Street on the 12th should be allowed to do so and the larger 13th parade should be re-routed. It appears that at this point the Orange Order believed it had won the argument that a church parade at least was significantly different from other parades.
The Drumcree Church Parade, 7 July 1985
‘The Orange Order is a Christian non-political organisation. It was right that this parade, to a place of worship, should proceed along the same route as it has for generations.’
The RUC eventually gave permission for the church parade to take place, although they did turn away two buses and twelve cars containing ‘loyalists’ at the Moira roundabout. Usually about 1,000 people took part, but on this occasion a larger than usual 2-3,000 strong parade, containing three bands, formed up and the RUC also stopped other loyalists joining from the Meadow lane area. Local Apprentice Boys were in the parade as well as some notable outsiders such as George Seawright. Residents of Obins Street staged a sit down protest an hour before the march which the police cleared using batons (five policemen and a number of protesters were injured). Eventually two local priests calmed the situation by mediating with two Assistant Chief Constables. As the march passed through the area, led by Martin Smyth (Grand Master of the Orange Institution and UUP MP for south Belfast) and Harold MeCusker, IRA chants were apparently directed at the police. On the return route via Garvaghy Road, some stones were thrown as the parade passed the Churchill Park area, an Orangeman being injured. The Irish News later stated that at one point a police officer assured Ohms Street residents that the situation at the next parades would be different.
The political reaction to this opening physical exchange was predictable enough. A Sinn Féin councillor criticised the ‘outright thuggery’ of the RUC on the Obins Street residents who were attempting to hold a peaceful demonstration. Seamus Mallon MP demanded John Hermon’s resignation for an ‘abject climb-down’ on the original rerouting plan, while an Alliance councillor was pleased that the march had been relatively peaceful, but was concemed that prominent people in the community were making matters worse. Paisley attacked Hermon over the expense of the policing, as apparently 500 RUC officers had been needed. Molyneaux suggested that the Northern Ireland Office had blundered into making Portadown a test case, but hoped things could be sorted out in a civilised manner. The RUC issued a statement that rerouting decisions were being made in the light of IRA and UVF plots to stir up trouble. Interestingly the statement referred to the feelings of Roman Catholics in the Portadown area over the prevention of the St Patrick’s day parade, saying that the ‘disappointment was stronger on account of the expectation that it would take place’ and that the ‘Police wish to place on record their regret that the parade was curtailed’. Hurd repeated his assurances that there was no political involvement in the policing of parades.
Orangemen such as Alan Wright concentrated on the peaceful nature of the parade.
‘Today proved that we can walk in a dignified manner and that we will continue to walk along our traditional routes. There will be no compromise in spite of expected negotiations this week. We will not accept any re-routing in any shape or form. It will be resisted and I can guarantee that loyalists are not going to tolerate any more tampering with their civil rights’
However, Orange Order Grand Secretary Walter Williams suggested that they would abide by the re-routing and called for brethren to avoid confronting the police. Indeed it seems clear that there was a substantial difference of opinion within the Orange Institution as to how to proceed. The Royal Black Institution appealed to the government to let parades go ahead and the Independent Orange Order criticised Walter Williams for his ‘stab in the back’ tactics and invoked the memory of William Johnston of Ballykilbeg in persuading Orangemen to unite over the right to march regardless of their Grand Lodge. Reports also suggest that members of the Orange Order in Portadown were angry at Walter Williams’s comments. At a meeting of the Action Committee on 8 July it was suggested that instead of going to Tandragee on the Twelfth, brethren should meet at Corcrain Orange Hall and stay in the town. Interviews conducted by the Newsletter certainly indicated the determination of some local Orangemen to fight a ban.
Twelfth of July 1985
‘When the men of North Armagh try to walk in Portadown it will be over a route they and their forefathers have traversed since 1796. They are not motivated out of a desire to break the law, but a sense of historic necessity to express, as they have always done, their legitimate pride in possession of their lands and liberties. They know instinctively that they only survive by their solidarity and determination.’
Eight country lodges, described by some of the newspapers as the ‘magnificent eight’, would normally march down Obins Street on the morning of the Twelfth, joining the rest of Portadown No.1 District before heading out to the main Armagh parade. After a meeting between Portadown Orangemen and RUC divisional commanders on 9 July, the threat of a large meeting of Orangemen in Portadown on the Twelfth appeared to recede. The position of the eight country lodges was unclear, although the Newsletter suggested that they might hand over a protest letter. Nevertheless, at a meeting on 10 July Portadown No.1 District decided it would stay in the town for the Twelfth. All brethren would meet at Corcrain Orange hall and conduct a peaceful protest, the main body having marched from the Carlton Street Orange Hall. The district would then parade over the normal route in the town.
Concerns over British Government talks with Dublin, particularly over parade routes, was such that there was considerable trouble at a number of eleventh night celebrations in Belfast, Londonderry, Cookstown, Annalong, Kilkeel and Ballynahinch which resulted in 11 arrests and 18 policemen being injured. There was also an attack on a police house in Cookstown.
Unfortunately the worst fears over the event were to be realised. The RUC blocked the entry of the eight lodges, headed by Breagh Leading Heroes LOL No.7, and as tension rose, a TV crew was attacked and shouts of ‘SS RUC’ came from the crowd. Numbers began to swell, as some Orangemen arrived from the town centre, and the Rev Ian Paisley made a plea for the march to be let through. Appeals by senior Orangemen were ignored and Harold McCusker ended up in a confrontation with some young loyalists. Attacks on the police started to become fierce and at one point a running battle took place between a group of nationalists and bandsmen. Rev. Tom Taylor did not read the resolutions as planned but congratulated the Orangemen on their stand. By late afternoon numbers had again grown at the tunnel end of Ohms Street and further attacks on the police took place in Woodhouse Street before, during and after the march home. This confrontation lasted around two hours.
Buckley and Kenney describe how during the Obins Street confrontation activity fluctuated throughout the day (Buckley & Kenney n.d.). They particularly noted how a variety of bands formed up in the afternoon, and, starting with an accordion band, followed by a ‘blood and thunder’ band, marched towards police lines then turned away before reaching them. The bottle throwing increased as the bands symbolically marched towards the police encouraged by a large, mainly female, teenage crowd. Some boys who attacked the police are estimated by Buckley and Kenney to have been as young as 6-8 years old. As the afternoon wore on spectators wandered away and the remains of the crowd were eventually dispersed by a police baton charge.
Trouble also occurred in Woodhouse Street, near to the entrance to Obins Street, as the parade went past. Although bottles were thrown at police lines, the police did not react and the crowd lost some interest. However, an incident stemming from an originally amicable discussion between some policemen and some inebriated men ended in an officer being called ‘a fucking black bastard’ and then punched. This ‘transformed the atmosphere’ and the crowd surged forward with an enthusiastic cheer, the bottles raining in. Nevertheless, the police lines were not broken and again the number and the enthusiasm of the crowd dwindled until police snatch squads dispersed them.
Parades that passed through predominantly Roman Catholic areas in Armagh and Cookstown, where some trouble had been predicted, passed off peacefully.
The Royal Black Institution Parade - 13 July 1985
The normally relaxed atmosphere at the field in Scarva was clearly affected by the situation in Portadown. When Martin Smyth rose to speak he was heckled by about 30 spectators (shouts of ‘scab’ and ‘out, out, out’), most not wearing Black regalia. The most serious incidents, however, occurred on the return of the preceptories and bands to Portadown. Just before the arrival of the participants, spectators in Market Street attacked police in Woodhouse Street with stones and bottles. Some masked rioters also fired ball bearings from catapults. Incidents took place intermittently until early in the morning and the Irish News reported attacks on Catholic houses in Obins Street.
It was reported that 52 police officers and 28 civilians had been injured over the two days of rioting and amongst the 37 arrests were 2 members of the UDR. Nearly 50 premises were attacked in Portadown and there was some looting in Woodhouse Street. Police decided to remain in the area for the foreseeable future.
The Political Reaction
The line taken by the Orange Standard was that blame lay with a vociferous group of republicans, who, along with the government, were easily allowed to dictate policing decisions. It criticised the vast amount of expenditure required for the policing of the re-routing. It also called for lodges to resist the temptation to move to the Loughgall district as reported. Martin Smyth described events as a cynical attempt by both governments to pitch the RUC against loyalists.
Although Unionist politicians blamed drunken rioters, they did not generally support the policing of the event. Harold McCusker accused the RUC of beating innocent demonstrators, of using animal excrement to mark demonstrators and criticised their use of plastic bullets. In a letter to Douglas Hurd he argued that between the Secretary of State and Jack Hermon they had done irreparable damage to relationships between the police and ordinary citizens. The police replied by accusing rioters of throwing excrement and listed various implements with which they were attacked.
With the sort of reaction that tended to typify the DUP response to these events, Rev. Ivan Foster (DUP Assemblyman for Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Commander of the Third Force) called for a resurrection of ‘Carson’s army’ to provide ‘all out resistance’. Sammy Wilson (DUP press officer and councillor in Belfast) said that loyalists should not be ashamed of confronting policemen who bowed to the demands of Dublin.
The UDA, through their magazine Ulster, criticised the Orange Institution for denouncing those who had ‘come into conflict’ with the RUC and suggested that the split in the Orange ranks was of the Institutions own making for publicly calling for loyalists to stay away from Portadown. Ulster also invoked the spirit of Johnston of Ballykilbeg and suggested that Walter Williams’s comments prior to the Twelfth were typical of a lack of leadership at the top.
On the other hand, the Irish Taoiseach, Dr Garret Fitzgerald, said that he had been ‘reassured’ by the performance of the RUC, as did Lame priest Pat Buckley. Sinn Féin concentrated upon the reports of attacks on nationalists by loyalist gangs and argued that re-routing changed nothing.
There was also some controversy over the cost of the parades. Whilst in 1984 the Portadown parades had apparently cost £34,150 to police, 1985 saw a massive increase to £341,000. The Orange Order also disputed the figures for arrests given by the RUC in August in reply to accusations of bias against loyalists. Original figures of 75 loyalists and 130 republicans arrested, between 27 June and 10 August, were contested by the Orange Order who put the respective figures at 160 and 58. The RUC later released figures of 468 and 427, very different from their first attempt, which the Orange Order similarly disputed.
A further political ramification of these events appears to have been the setting up of the United Ulster Loyalist Front (UULF) under the chairmanship of Alan Wright, with Craigavon councillor Phillip Black (UUP) as secretary. Their expressed aim of co-ordinating action against ‘the Dublin based policies of Hurd and Hermon’ was soon reinforced by further news of an Anglo-Irish package which would include a security commission involving both RUC and Garda Siochana. The UULF’s exact membership provided some press speculation. Whilst two Official Unionists councillors did get involved, the majority of UUP and DUP officials seemed to have kept their distance, favouring a more direct Molyneaux/Paisley alliance. The UULF organisation was to become part of the basis of what became known as the Ulster Clubs just prior to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November. Unionist politicians remained suspicious and a number, such as Ken Maginnis MP, were conspicuous critics. In fact the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was to have the desired effect of forcing, at least temporarily, the UUP and DUP to co-ordinate political activities.
August & September 1985
Parades had become more newsworthy than usual. At a Castlewellan band parade on 26 July two loyalist bands were refused entry into the town by the RUC. In Cookstown on 3 August the Red Hand Defenders Flute Band was not allowed to march down the main street (Market Street) and an attempt to do so resulted in attacks on police and firemen, from both loyalist and nationalist groups, and 10 arrests. On the evening of 9 August two DUP councillors were arrested after scuffles at an Internment commemoration rally held by Sinn Féin in Downpatrick. The RUC also banned a loyalist band, Bessbrook True Blues, from parading in Keady prior to the Apprentice Boys parade in Derry.  An Apprentice Boys parade through Portadown was peaceful; nevertheless there were attacks on police by loyalist bandsmen on the Friday and Saturday nights in Derry and although the Internment parade in Belfast was largely peaceful, gangs in the Bogside, in Derry, attacked the police. Loyalist ire was added to when police did not interfere with the Internment parade despite the participation of members of NORAID.
To counter an Ancient Order of Hibernians parade in Kilkeel on 15 August, which that organisation said it knew nothing about, the UULF announced it would hold a ‘Victory in Japan day’ parade at the same time. As it happens, two nationalist bands eventually did parade under the auspices of the Irish National Foresters and the UULF called off its march, apparently under pressure from the RUC. George Graham (DUP assemblyman for South Down) complained that loyalists were unable to march in Portadown, Castlewellan, and Downpatrick but that nationalists paraded freely in Castlewellan, Downpatrick and Kilkeel.
Portadown again became the scene for disturbances, on the evening of 16 August. A band parade through the centre of the town, organised by the Portadown Defenders Flute Band and attended by up to 20 bands, ended in a riot. The Portadown Defenders Flute Band had been one of the bands to come into conflict with the police on 12 and 13 July. Police officers were attacked in the area of High Street, one having his revolver stolen, up to 50 premises were damaged, and at one stage the Edward Street RUC station was besieged. Early in the morning petrol bombs were thrown at police in the loyalist Edgartown district. There were also some incidents the following evening in both loyalist and nationalist areas of the town and some attacks on police homes notably in the Rectory Park estate. Indeed the Police Federation voiced its fears over the position police officers had been put in Portadown. The situation was such that The Portadown Times editorial talked of anarchy if people did not support the police.
Ken Maginnis, whilst critical of the handling of the parades issue, attacked the disloyalty of the ‘thugs’ involved in running battles with the police. However, DUP councillor Gladys McCullough blamed the RUC for provoking a normally peaceful band parade. The debate over parades and the relationship between the police and the population of Portadown was well and truly re-opened. On the one hand some letters to newspapers described rioters as ‘so called Protestants’ and Robert McGartney (UUP Assemblyman for North Down) described them as scum’, while on the other hand, the Rev. Ivan Foster blamed police for batonning old men and women and Paisley demanded Hermon’s resignation.An interesting letter from Maghera criticised the UUP ‘fur coat brigade’ for failing to understand the importance of band parades as social occasions for young Protestants in areas such as Portadown, and went on to accuse the police of blocking that outlet. The letter also speculated as to whether the British government wanted to use Portadown as an example to Dublin of the problems involved in policing Protestants.
Feelings ran so high that Ken Maginnis apparently walked out on a meeting in the Northways community centre on the Brownlee estate, Portadown on 21 August when people cheered as a resident said that she would ‘clap her hands’ on news of a police officer’s death. Alliance leader John Gushnahan was quick to praise Maginnis’s stand.
Confrontation over parades continued in other areas. The RUC stopped certain bands, including the Bessbrook True Blues, which were on a ‘black list’,from joining a parade in the mainly Roman Catholic town of Keady. When nationalists attacked the parade the RUC were accused of being too intent on stopping the blood and thunder bands and not on protecting the event. In Crosskeys (Co. Antrim) a loyalist crowd stopped the nationalist Clooney Flute Band parading through what Paisley called a ‘mainly Protestant area’ after it had returned from an All-Ireland band competition. The government defended its policy on policing parade by describing decisions as taken in the interests of law and order.
The final major parading date of the year is ‘the last Saturday’ in August and is organised by the Royal Black Institution. Of the six venues chosen, Newry caused most discussion with Frank Freely (SDLP Assemblyman for Newry and Mourne) calling it ‘utterly insensitive’. On the day, a bomb scare delayed the parade for 30 minutes. In Lisburn a band carrying a UVF flag was refused permission to march by the organisers, on the basis that it had not been invited by a preceptory.
Also in the headlines was the participation by a New York Police Band in an Internment parade through Bundoran, Co. Donegal. On 8 September the Roman Catholic Clooney Flute Band was again refused permission to parade in Crosskeys and police were injured and four people were arrested when nationalists stoned an Orange church parade in Dunloy (Co. Antrim).
If any proof were needed that Portadown had become symbolic of the parading debate in general, George Seawright provided it when early in the morning of 16 September he attempted to march through the Tunnel area with an estimated 70 loyalists. They were foiled as police had been tipped off by a ‘mole’. The reaction of local Unionists was to tell Seawright to mind his own business. A few days later on 20 September a band parade in Portadown organised by the Portadown True Blues Flute Band passed off relatively peacefully taking a route, as it did, through predominantly Protestant areas (Watson Street, Armagh Road, Jervis Street, and through the town centre), although there was a small bottle throwing incident after the parade had finished.
There were rowdy court sessions at the end of September and the beginning of October in Craigavon Magistrates court as cases concerning the 12th and 13th of July came up and police videos were shown. There was a further incident at a band parade in Castlewellan, a call from the DUP to Thatcher for a public inquiry into the Portadown incidents, a large Apprentice Boys of Derry march through Belfast to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Lord Carson on 26 October, and a UULF parade on 2 November.
However, the political situation in Northern Ireland was to take on a new dynamic when, on 15 November, Thatcher and Fitzgerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. For many unionists, their worst fears, expressed through the parades issue during the summer, had been realised. Demonstrations were quickly organised to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Crowds estimated to be as high as 200,000 had turned up in Belfast on 23 November 1985 and the countryside was punctuated by events over the months following. Even before the year was up the newspapers were discussing the likelihood of clashes the following summer.
A unionist day of action on 3 March was accompanied by rioting in loyalist areas, attacks on police, and the intimidation of police families. The Ulster Clubs, which developed out of the UULF, organised a number of rallies although they do not appear to have attracted great attention. The RUC’s annual report not surprisingly broached the subject of parades. In it Jack Hermon suggested the possibility of setting up an independent tribunal to deal with the question of controversial parades. Of the 1,897 loyalist parades in 1985, the report cites only two banned and 15 re-routed.
‘Parades are a feature of social and cultural life of both communities in Northern Ireland and involve a major policing commitment. The RUC looks to the community for co-operation and hopes that an atmosphere can be created in which parades are no longer the subject of alienation, fear and hostility’
The Orange Order dismissed the idea of an independent tribunal, claiming that it derived from the Anglo-Irish intergovernmental committee, and of the other political parties only the Alliance seemed to embrace it.
St Patrick’s Day
Preparation for Easter
A meeting of Worshipful Masters of the Orange Order on 22 March decided to fight the re-routing, and their mood could not have been helped by the announcement from the BBC that it would no longer televise live the Twelfth in Belfast. The die was truly cast when on 25 March the Apprentice Boys of Derry handed in their proposed Easter Monday route. Whilst it did not take in the Tunnel area, it did go down the Garvaghy Road past the nationalist Churchill estate. The chairman of the Belfast District of the Apprentice Boys, announced that ‘they were not going to Portadown as a political body; we are a religious organisation’ and suggested that they would have extra stewards to deal with the ‘hangers-on’ so that heavy policing would not be required. In the House of Commons, Seamus Mallon criticised the ‘triumphalism’ of such events and Tom King (the new Secretary of State) promised the RUC would protect innocent people from provocation.
Tension built up over the Easter weekend and the RUC banned two band parades in Armagh, one nationalist, the other loyalist, due to lack of notice. Members of the Portadown Chamber of Commerce met Apprentice Boys parade organisers to voice fears over the event. An Apprentice Boys spokesman said that the necessary action to keep ‘undesirables’ away would be taken.
Easter Monday - 1 April 1986
The police decision to ban the parade was announced at 10.15pm on Sunday night and seemed destined to cause chaos. The reason they gave for this decision was that they had recieved information that paramilitaries and ‘subversives’ were planning to take-over the march. Presumably as part of the same decision 28 suspected UDA members, including John McMichael, were arrested by the police.
‘There are sinister elements which have infiltrated and taken control of this particular parade. Let me say that, at this time, at Easter parades, particularly loyalist ones and particularly the Apprentice Boys normally go to the seaside resorts and non-controversial areas and it is a day out for members of the clubs, their relatives and friends. This is a holiday occasion on Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday. It would have been almost criminal on my part to allow members of this community and Apprentice Boys to be drawn into Portadown for the sinister motives which lie behind those subversives who have, in fact, dominated this parade for sometime’
Hermon later claimed that the aim of the ‘subversives’ was to create trouble in Portadown and draw police strength before starting violence in Belfast. 
For many of the Apprentice Boys clubs and their bands the transport and meeting place would have been organised and hotels and pubs booked to provide refreshment for the middle of the day. The Campsie club in Portadown claimed that it recieved no official notice whatsoever of the ban.
Reaction to the ban appears to have been immediate. From midnight, hundreds of loyalists started to pour into Portadown and eventually, around 1.00am, up to 3,000 people forced the police, who were heavily outnumbered, to allow them to parade. A leading DUP figure was later quoted as saying it ‘indicated the spirit of Ulster people’. The police came under great pressure in the Garvaghy Road as they attempted to keep rival groups apart. Locals in Garvaghy Road claimed that some marchers were carrying guns. The parade ended at 3.00 am but tension does not seem to have been eased by the event. Police attempted to stop more loyalists arriving in Portadown during the morning but crowds built up. Some Apprentice Boys arrived at meeting points, such as Linen Hall Street in Belfast, unaware of the ban. At Oxford Street bus station in Belfast, Apprentice Boys clubs met to decide whether to continue to travel to Portadown or whether to go to parades at Saintfield or Aughnacloy. Apprentice Boys from Lisburn and Carrickfergus, as well as from Belfast, were stopped by police at the Moira roundabout but some managed to get around this by saying that they were going to Aughnacloy.
Throughout the morning clubs paraded through the nearby village of Edenderry. At around 12.30pm the parade headed along the Carrickblacker Road to the Killcomain Estate and on towards the town. Trouble had started after noon when local Apprentice Boys led by the Portadown Defenders Flute Band were stopped from entering the town centre at Bridge Street. Stones rained in on police lines. Ammunition was ferried in wheel barrows from a nearby building site by masked youths. An elderly man was hit as police fired baton rounds to drive the crowds back into the Edendeny estate. Eventually rain seemed to dampen down the ‘high spirits’.
Discussions were held between the police and Apprentice Boys officials and by 4.00pm it was decided by the police that a parade could take place through the town centre with intervals between each club and band. This appears to have involved at least 1,000 members and more than half a dozen bands. The parade began at Edendeny and police Land Rovers parted as they headed over the Bann Bridge and down the High Street, Market Street and Church Street, going around the town three times before heading up the Armagh Road towards Brownstown Park. As the parade neared the heavily policed Woodhouse Street youths broke away and started throwing bottles and stones at the police.
‘It was a bizarre scene as soberly dressed men, women and children packed the town centre yards away from where gangs of youths hurled rocks, paving stones, sticks and iron bars and anything they could get their hands on. The opposition to the police was complete: the youths were encouraged by the onlookers. Police responded with dozens of baton rounds, many fired straight into the crowds.’
Keith White, from Houston Park, Lurgan, was hit in the face by a plastic bullet and critically injured. Many of those present thought he was dead and the situation worsened as more Land Rovers arrived and were stoned as they sped up and down the centre of the town.
Late in the afternoon a senior RUC Officer made his way down Market Street and, it appears to have been agreed that if protesters left the scene police would return to barracks. By 6.00pm the situation had eased somewhat, but as darkness fell properties were attacked and gangs of youths roamed the town.
Local Protestants, interviewed by the press, almost universally blamed the police and government seeing the ban as ‘unwise’.
‘There would have been far less trouble had they let them go ahead.’
‘Every protest Unionists have made to Thatcher has fallen on deaf ears, and this is what happens.’
One ‘leading businessman’ did indicate that the ‘hangers on’ were to blame and held the march organisers responsible. Residents of Garvaghy Road complained of inadequate policing.
‘I feel the police were caught unawares - they should have had the army in from the night before.’
‘The police were just lined up on the footpath and didn’t bother.’
Other areas in Northern Ireland were also affected by an evening of violence. Loyalists firebombed Catholic homes in Lisburn and there were incidents in the Shankill, Donegall Road, Taughmonagh, and Cavehill areas of Belfast. Police later announced that in all there had been 32 attacks on officers, 33 arrests made, and 39 policemen injured. At least 38 civilians were hurt, three seriously.
On the following day there were a number of attacks on police homes, violence again flared in Lisburn, and SDLP councillor Joe Hendron had his car petrol bombed. However, it was the politicians who now took centre stage.
The Political Reaction
‘There was clear, precise, and definite information that paramilitaries were organising, not just broom handles, but with much more sophisticated weapons, with which to attack security forces, using the march as cover for subversive activities’
As government ministers threatened to release evidence of this accusation, the leader of the UDA issued a statement claiming that they were being used as a scapegoat. The Apprentice Boys also reacted to this suggestion, threatening legal action and demanding an apology from Jack Hermon. They claimed that they had made adequate preparations by placing marshals along the route, and that they had an agreement with paramilitary leaders to stay away. Jack Hermon added that in his view whatever decision had been made the violence was inevitable. Later Martin Smyth claimed that the only evidence for the action of subversives was gained from two intelligence officers doing a pub crawl in Portadown.
The unionist line was that the police had yet again been used as an arm of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
‘It is a sad day in Ulster’s history when the RUC enforces the directions of Peter Barry to ensure that a legitimate expression of loyalist rights is suppressed.’
‘He [Hermon] can ban loyalist parades which are perfectly legal at the behest of the Dublin Government and Peter Barry, but refuses to take action against yesterday’s illegal republican parades.’
‘Loyalists and their organisations are generally law-abiding, but what we have witnessed since the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement in November must make one wonder should we continue to act within the law.’
Whilst Peter Robinson suggested that ‘our first task is to bring Northern Ireland back within the UK on acceptable terms to the community’, his fellow party member and Assemblyman Rev. William Beattie was talking in terms of unionists taking ‘control of the province before it is too late’ and declaring a ‘provisional government’ having ‘withdrawn consent from King and Barry’. Robinson also claimed that the decision to ban the parade had been made at least a day before it was announced.
Ken Magmnnis called for the government to find ‘some way to reassure those who have and want to continue to respect the rule of law’, and, although he deplored confrontation with the police, the situation was confused as the security forces appeared to be acting ‘under joint authority’ As attacks on the police continued, the Orange Institution and Black Institution issued strong condemnation of the lawlessness and offered the RUC their support. Seamus Mallon, on the other hand, argued that in not preventing the banned parade from taking place the police had clearly shown that there was a law for one section of the community and not for the other.
‘I wonder if the NIO ministers, who are supposed to be politically responsible, are in charge, or is it the chief constable, or, indeed, is it a section of the RUC that allows people to break the law.’
Eddy McGrady, the SDLP chief whip, called for a ban on all parades and condemned attacks on the police.
For its part, Sinn Féin immediately condemned the use of plastic bullets and criticised Mallon for remaining silent on the issue.
‘Getting the RUC or Brits to put the boot into loyalists is not the answer to Ireland’s problems, nor is using the paranoia of Unionists a substitute for the real advances of the Nationalist case'
The Alliance party went so far as to publish an advert proclaiming its support for the police, and accused both unionist and nationalist politicians of, at times, deliberately looking for confrontation.
As attacks on police homes continued, however, a number of UUP politicians returned to a defence of the police. Molyneaux argued that despite the Anglo-Irish Agreement it was his duty to ‘demand an immediate halt to attacks on policemen and their families, together with the indiscriminate destruction of property’. This was followed up by a plea from the Police Federation for attacks on the police to stop. The DUP took a somewhat harder line, putting the RUC ‘on probation’, and their condemnation of the attacks was usually accompanied by a call for Hermon’s resignation.
The Newsletter later printed an interview with a senior ranking RUC officer who claimed that he had been ordered to take a tougher attitude to loyalist parades and that the orders derived from the NIO. He also suggested that illegal republican parades were allowed to pass by the DMSUs set up to deal with them.
Keith White’s Funeral
The death of Keith White on 5 April from injuries sustained on being struck by a plastic bullet renewed calls for an inquiry into the events of Easter Monday. Workers at Harland and Wolff downed tools as a mark of respect and in Portadown the Ulster Clubs organised an open air service. Violence erupted in Ballymena, Kilkeel and on the Shankill. His burial on 17 April ushered in a night of rioting in Lisburn and on the Shankill, and a number of police stations were picketed, with Ulster Clubs again organising a protest outside Edward Street police station in Portadown. The following night there was further violence after a band parade in the Donegall Road area of Belfast, ten arrests were made and two plastic bullets fired, despite UUP and DUP calls for the violence to stop.
Violence flared again on the Saturday night (19 April) after a protest march organised by the Independent Orange Order in Portadown. The Portadown Protestant Faith Defenders ILOL 51 and six bands paraded to the RUC station to protest at the ‘indiscriminate use’ of plastic bullets. At one point a 1,000 strong group confronted police and the RUC station at Edward Street was attacked with stones and bottles. In the end 10 policemen were injured, 28 plastic bullets were fired, and 7 arrests made. Attacks were also made on businesses in the town and order was not restored until 3.00arn. Further incidents took place in Portadown on the evening of the 21st when a Roman Catholic motorist was taken from his car and beaten up. On the following night there was trouble on the Rathcool estate in North Belfast and on the Killycomaine housing estate, resulting in one injury from a plastic bullet. Comments from the UDA leader Andy Tyrie suggested that he could control the violence if the Anglo-Irish Agreement were suspended, whilst the Apprentice Boys joined the calls for the violence to stop.
The pressure on the Apprentice Boys to call off their proposed parade grew in the light of the week’s violence. Even the UDA joined church leaders and politicians in asking them to think again. John McMichael actually suggested that the UDA had advised the Apprentice Boys against the Easter Monday parade. Later, on 25 April the Apprentice Boys announced the cancellation of the march, their general committee voting 16-12 against it.
In the end the Apprentice Boys Campsie Club from Clounagh did march through Portadown, avoiding nationalist areas as they went from Brownstown to Edendeny and back again. Some clubs lowered flags and took off their hats as they passed the spot near Woodhouse Street where Keith White had been hit. Police kept a low profile but were out in force in the Garvaghy Road and Obins Street areas. There were, however, accusations that the police had stopped groups coming into the town to take part. Keith White’s death was the focal point of the service which followed, and was attended by DUP assembly man Ivan Foster, who repeated an accusation that torch batteries had been fired from plastic bullet guns on Easter Monday.
The newspapers continued to report various parading disputes. A riot in Bangor followed a band parade and a banner unfurling in Dunloy made the news when the local Presbyterian minister suggested that local Orangemen should be ‘responsible’ in their actions. Apprentice Boys seated at the service walked out. The banner unfurling did in fact end in rioting as loyalists tried to march through the centre of the largely Roman Catholic town carrying a Northern Ireland flag. As Orange marshals tried to control the situation, they too were attacked. The next day Walter Williams said that the Orange Order intended to ‘clamp down on outside elements who tried to infiltrate Orange parades’.
A motion in the Stormont Assembly attacked Dublin interference in Northern Ireland and claimed the existence of a ‘hit-list’ of parades produced by the SDLP and Peter B any. Frazer Agnew said that an original list of 23 parades had been whittled down to a dozen. The RUC repeated its statement of the previous year that it had not ‘policy, plan or intention’ to suppress loyalist parades and that all decisions were based on proper policing considerations.
On 2 June senior Portadown Orangemen announced that they would resist efforts to re-route either the Drumcree church parade (6 July) or the Twelfth.
‘Our resolve for the preservation of our civil and religious liberties has been strengthened by the implementation of Dublin rule in our beloved Province. As our district will not accept any re-routing we are obliged, should any take place, to oppose it. We have, as a district, received permission for our country lodges to remain in Portadown this coming Twelfth day and we have set in hand preparations for a celebration in our home town. We issue today an appeal for the utmost support from our fellow Orange-men to join us in ensuring that Messrs. Barry, Hume and Mallon will not succeed in trampling our rights into the streets of our town.’
They further claimed that they had received assurances the previous year from the Chief Constable that the parade would continue unhindered but be closely monitored for three years. The District later announced that a field on the Loughgall Road would hold their Twelfth demonstration. However, it was reported that some rank and file brethren would stay at home if they were not to get to the main demonstation in Armagh. The 32 lodges planned to converge on Corcrain in the morning and, if not allowed to proceed down Obins Street, would hold a protest meeting. Similarly, if stopped on the church parade, they would hold an open air service.
Incidents in Portadown continued as an old Roman Catholic church was vandalised and the words UVE scrawled on headstones in Drumcree. There were further disturbances in Portadown on 17 June after a rally protesting at the Anglo-Irish Agreement. A Catholic club, St Patrick’s Hall in Thomas Street, was burnt after a 1,000 strong march and band parade.  On 23 June 300 loyalists peacefully marched through Portadown to mark the closing of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
An advertisement that appeared in the Newsletter, inviting brethren to the 12 July protest rally, insisted that brethren had to get permission of their private lodges. Yet again the politicians and churchmen manoeuvred over the issues, Bishop Cahal Daly calling for a ban on all parades in ‘flash point areas’, and Harold McCusker urging loyalists to avoid confrontation with the police. Paisley later accused Bishop Daly of encouraging Roman Catholics to go out and make flash points. And the church leaders of various Protestant churches called for restraint but asked for ‘traditional’ routes to be respected. Sinn Féin planned a rally for the night of Saturday 5 July, to be held in the Obins Street and Garvaghy Road to register the concern of residents, the organisers claiming that they intended to make the protest peaceful. Police were attacked during 1 July parades in East Belfast and Sandy Row although Orangemen do not appear to have been involved.
As Orangemen waited for permission to walk through the Tunnel on their 6 July church parade the nationalist band Spirit of Freedom announced that it also had applied for permission to walk the same route. The RUC took a similar decision to the previous year and gave permission for the Sunday church parade, on various conditions being met including that it remained ‘dignified’, whilst re-routing the Twelfth and Thirteenth parades. They also banned the nationalist band parade planned for the Sunday, saying that it was ‘an entirely new event without tradition’, clearly intended to cause further difficulties.  The decision was published in a large advertisement along with conditions for the church parade relating to the conduct of bands and persons, and to proper stewarding. One of the police stipulations was that the march should be local in character. Not surprisingly the compromise situation pleased no one, with the relevant politicians all taking up the usual stances. However, the RUC did reverse its decision to ban the nationalist band parade and gave it permission to march as long as it did so in the afternoon.
The Drumcree Church Parade - 6 July 1986
When a large number of marchers had squeezed through, they started to march to Drumcree church with residents of Obins Street hurling abuse and bottles at the police. They held a banner saying ‘Tunnel says no to Orange Parade’. A Catholic Priest, Fr. Patrick Thornton, was assaulted by loyalists as he entering Ohms Street from Ballyoran and at Drumcree church there was more trouble as a police Land Rover was overturned.
For the return down Garvaghy Road the Drumcree Faith and Justice Group, which had been set up to campaign against loyalist parades in the area, arranged a tea party holding a placard saying ‘fair play for nationalists’. Police and soldiers lined both sides of the street and abuse and some bottles were hurled at marchers as they went through. Seawright waited at the Tunnel area for five hours along with other loyalists and Orangemen.
In all, four arrests were made, 27 policemen injured, as well as three civilians. The most serious incident was a dart thrown from a nationalist crowd that hit a policeman in the neck. The police afterwards issued a statement suggesting that the opportunity for a peaceful parade was missed and that three police officers had been assaulted even before the parade had started.
‘At one point there was an insistence that a known trouble maker not from Portadown should take part in the parade contrary to the prior conditions laid down by the police. His participation was not permitted by the police’
Rumour circulated afterwards that two senior Eire civil servants had been present at the parade. Ian Paisley insisted that the RUC was obeying ‘Barry’s law’ not the law of the country and argued that no policeman could pull an Orangeman out from the ranks of a church parade. In an interview after the trouble, Martin Smyth invoked the name of William Johnston of Ballykilbeg in the fight for the right to march.
Twelfth of July 1986
The plan for this year’s Twelfth in Portadown again involved a protest at Corcrain Orange Hall by the eight lodges that traditionally enter Obins Street and the District meeting in the town taking a role call at 10.00am. The RUC had offered the lodges two alternatives, one taking in Obins Street, the other Garvaghy Road. In the end marchers were escorted down the Garvaghy Road on the morning of the Twelfth with the county lodges, three bands (two pipe and one flute), three other lodges (Ex-servicemans, Edenderry, and Parkmont) and District officers taking part although one lodge refused to accept the re-routing and made its own way to the town centre. District officers did hand in a letter of protest at Obins Street and the parade proceeded down Garvaghy Road with a few residents coming out to watch. But the peace was not to last. Although some missiles had been thrown at the police as Orangemen were boarding buses for Armagh, it was later that serious confrontations took place with seventeen policemen injured. On this occasion the trouble did not seem to be directly connected with the parade but started in the evening as youths tried to pull down the barrier in Woodhouse Street. The Orange parade coming through the centre of town became shambolic as youths ran through it and police arrived to deal with the trouble. Four Land Rovers came up the street sandwiching rioters in. A policeman was dragged from his vehicle and beaten, protesters were hit, sometimes by their own missiles, and one Orangemen collapsed with a heart attack. Incidents continued for two hours with a Land Rover being turned over and burnt and a number of people being injured.
Yet again the compromise situation, of the route down the Garvaghy Road with an agreement that no party tunes should be played, had satisfied almost no one and failed to keep the peace. Senator Brid Rogers (SDLP) described the Garvaghy Road march as a ‘climb down by the RUC’, and John Hume saw it as giving in to the ‘bully boys’. Brian McCann saw it as a capitulation to loyalists and a calculated insult to the nationalist population. Whilst Portadown officials of No.1 District saw it as an ‘honourable settlement’, reports suggested that rank and file Orange-men were angry at the ‘sell out’ and that some members of the country lodges had stayed at home in protest. Two local DUP councillors expressed dissatisfaction at the outcome. Nevertheless, despite the disatisfaction, the Garvaghy Road route appeared to be a possible long term ‘solution’ to the dispute, although one must suspect that the RUC took this decision purely on a pragmatic basis, because it was easier to police than the Tunnel, rather than from any argument of principle.
There was also trouble at other venues in Northern Ireland such as at Rasharkin (Co. Antrim) and at the Belfast demonstration where a spectator was attacked by an Orangeman. There were further riots in Belfast on the Sunday evening.
The Royal Black Institution Parade - 13 July 1986
In Garvaghy Road a largely peaceful protest was held by nationalists at the decision by the RUC to allow Saturday’s parade to go ahead. The Spirit of Freedom band paraded through Obins Street in the afternoon. During the afternoon there was an attempt by loyalists to ram the barricade with a hijacked bus.
On the return of the Blackmen from Scarva, the police DMSUs tried to clear the streets and further incidents took place. The RUC later praised the dignity of the Black preceptories in Portadown. There were a number of incidents in the Edgarstown area in the evening with a police Land Rover and two cars being attacked.
Other areas of Northern Ireland again experienced trouble as the Twelfth concentrated resentment of the Anglo Irish Agreement. Incidents took place in north and west Belfast with Catholic and Protestant groups clashing in Manor Street. An Orange Hall in Dunloy was burnt, a UFF car bomb exploded outside a pub in Castlewellan, and there were disturbances in Ballymoney (Co. Antrim) and Gilford (Co. Down).
The Political Reaction
‘I want nationalists to know that I am determined to see that their interests are safeguarded and that their physical security is protected.’
‘I have deliberately kept public silence about events in Northern Ireland in order not to aggravate an already inflamed situation. It is necessary now to clear up misunderstandings which may have arisen about my position.’
Barry later argued that the RUC had ‘backed down in front of bully boys'
Not surprisingly, such an intervention produced a hostile reaction in the north. Harold McCusker described Barry as ignorant of the situation and pointed out that the Anglo-Irish Agreement specifically excluded interference on policing matters. Alliance leader, John Cushnahan, saw the remarks as ‘irresponsible, inflammatory, and totally one sided’.
In making his dissatisfaction public, Barry was bound to put some strain on the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Tom King implied, in a statement, that it was not over diplomatic on the part of Peter Barry. Comments by Garret Fitzgerald that Dublin had been given assurances by the British Government that there would be no change of policy on parades in Portadown were taken up by Martin Smyth who demanded to know exactly what assurances had been given to the Dublin Government. The Belfast Telegraph also reported a strange twist to the debate, suggesting that ‘Whitehall sources’ believed the decision over the march could be defended on the grounds that it ‘passed’ an area of high Catholic population, but did not go through it. King later announced in Parliament that although the Irish government had made representations to him over parades in general, Portadown was the only venue over which specific details were discussed.
Running parallel to the above political debate was the inquiry, set up by the Grand Lodge, into the Portadown incidents. Sitting on the committee were Harold McCusker, Rev. Robert Coulter, George Savage (Mayor of Craigavon), Ivan Davis (local Alderman), and Kenneth Watson (a leading Orangeman). They sat taking evidence from the public in Craigavon Civic Centre, a fact that in itself annoyed the SDLP. Their report in the end laid the blame on tactical errors and lack of discipline by the DMSUs, but accepted that a small vociferous group of loyalists was intent on violence. The Orange Standard also printed an editorial very critical of ‘mob violence’
The End of the Summer
The Internment parade passed off peacefully but the traditional Apprentice Boys march in Derry on 12 August, which had also been the centre of discussions concerning a likely route, ended in major civil disturbances. Arrests were made in the Waterside and during rioting by republicans in the Bogside.
On 14 August there were clashes in Dundalk following Peter Robinson’s court appearance. Violence also flared on 15 August as two nationalist bands marched in Kilkeel and arrests were made in Toombe after nationalists attacked police at an Ancient Order of Hibernians rally. In Portadown a loyalist mob went on a rampage through the town after a band parade. Police entered the town and the rioters ran back towards the Edenderry estate. Police were again forced to fire baton rounds on 9 August to separate rival groups in the Obins Street area.
However, the marching season did in fact end peacefully with the Belfast Royal Black Preceptories parading through Portadown on 30 August. The parade, with up to 6,000 people taking part in it, started at Edenderry on the Belfast side of Portadown and proceeded through the town to Edgarstown and a field on the Loughgall Road.
Unionist feeling over the Anglo-Irish Agreement continued to run high. In November Robinson and Paisley set up what they called Ulster Resistance, supposedly to take ‘direct action’. There was also a large demonstration against the Anglo-Irish Agreement at the Belfast City Hall on 15 November which ended in sporadic violence. Nevertheless, in retrospect, the campaign against the Agreement was running out of steam. The welcome given to the Agreement internationally and cross party support in Britain all helped to make it unlikely that the British Government would give into the Unionist demands. Further, at the start of December, Secretary of State, Tom King announced proposals to change the laws affecting parades and demonstrations which proved to be effective (Bardon 1992 767-768).
As a post-script to these events, it is interesting to note that in November the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland introduced a band contract to be used by all lodges when hiring bands. There was clearly some disquiet within the Orange Institution over the behaviour of bands and the introduction of the contract caused controversy. Through their magazine Combat the UVF felt it necessary to comment on the new ‘conditions of engagement’, criticising the Orange Order for its lack of consultation with bands, and lauding the contribution of bands to the Orange parades. Any bad behaviour, they argued, could only be attributed to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Consequently the United Ulster Bands Association was set up, advertisements for which appeared in both Combat and Ulster.
This being said, the DFJ attempted to take the protest on somewhat, in 1994, by trying to put up a ‘Green’ arch which the Orangemen would be forced to march under. They were unsuccessful, however, since despite gaining planning permission, the person who had agreed to erect it withdrew after he received threats. This failure appears to have been played upon and there were disturbances in the area during the evening. The Faith and Justice Group has also attempted to get permission to parade through the town centre, in 1990 and 1994, but has been refused permission on both occasions.
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