3 Irish brothers killed by bomb Orangemen reject pleas, vow to march in Northern Ireland

July 13, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELFAST, NOTHERN IRELAND — BELFAST, Northern Ireland - Rejecting pleas from political and religious leaders, officials with the Protestant-led Orange Order vowed last night to continue their protest "indefinitely" at Portadown's Drumcree Church.

The anguished calls to halt the standoff came after the early morning killings of three young Roman Catholic brothers, who burned to death in their beds after a firebomb blast at their home in Ballymoney.

Occurring after a week of growing religious unrest in the British-ruled province, with homes firebombed, cars hijacked and police attacked by Protestant rioters, the deaths of the Quinn brothers, Richard 11, Mark, 10, and Jason, 8, stunned Northern Ireland.

The attack was labeled sectarian by police and condemned as "an act of barbarism" by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Even after nearly 30 years of terrorism that has claimed more than 3,200 lives, the deaths of the brothers united most mainstream political leaders as never before. Outraged political leaders strove to head off the Orange Order protest to march down the Garvaghy Road in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood.

For more than a week, the Orangemen of Portadown have camped out on a hillside by Drumcree Episcopal church, blocked by heavily armed British soldiers and police and prohibited by an independent parades commission from undertaking a traditional march down the Garvaghy Road. Today marks the height of Northern Ireland's marching season, as Orangemen commemorate William of Orange's victory over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Leading the call to blunt the standoff was David Trimble, the first minister of Northern Ireland's newly-elected local assembly, leader of the main Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, and a member of the Orange Order.

"I must say to the Portadown brethren that the only way they can clearly distance themselves from these murders is to show to the world that they repudiate those who have murdered young children," he said. "The only way they can repudiate that is to now leave the hill at the Drumcree parish church, and return home.

"No road is worth these lives," Trimble added.

Joining Trimble's plea, Seamus Mallon, Trimble's Catholic deputy in the new assembly, asked rhetorically, "What price your principles now? Does it take one child, two children, three children?"

Trimble's comments were echoed by the Rev. William Bingham, an Orange Order chaplain, who called for the protest to end.

"A 15-minute walk down Garvaghy Road by the Orange Order would be a very hollow victory because it would be in the shadow of three coffins, of little boys who wouldn't even know what the Orange Order is about," Bingham told worshipers.

The Rev. Ian Paisley, who represents Ballymoney in Britain's House of Commons, said he was "absolutely devastated, appalled and angry" over the deaths.

But the Portadown Orange Order lodge decided to continue the standoff and was backed by their leadership, which nevertheless call for "scaled-down" celebrations across the province today.

The Grand Lodge, the national leadership, said it wanted the annual provincewide commemorations Monday to take place "in a dignified fashion and which, mindful of the recent tragedy, will fully recognize local sensitivities."

In Belfast, Catholic residents of Lower Ormeau Road - whose Orangemen's parade is second only to Portadown in inflaming sectarian emotions - said yesterday they would allow the parade to pass as a show of respect for the Quinn family.

Members of the Orange Order in Portadown negotiated through intermediaries Saturday with the Catholic residents of Garvaghy Road, but no progress was reported when the talks adjourned after six hours.

Yesterday, the government-appointed parades commission turned down a second application from the Orangemen to march. It was not clear if the indirect talks would resume.

People in Northern Ireland were shaken by the murders of the boys, who lived in a predominantly Protestant housing project in Ballymoney near the province's north coast.

The firebomb attack occurred at about 4: 30 a.m., after local police had cleared a group of Protestant demonstrators in the area. The boys' mother, Chrissy, a Catholic, and her boyfriend Raymond Craig, a Protestant, escaped from the burning home, as did a friend of the mother.

"They weren't being brought up Catholic or Protestant, they were just three kids," the boys' uncle, Francis Quinn, told reporters.

Although the family had lived in the area for 20 years, Francis Quinn said in recent years they were subjected to threatening letters, had their doors broken in and had bombs tossed through the windows. The house of the boys' grandmother was firebombed last week.

Ronnie Flanagan, the Royal Ulster Constabulary's Chief Constable, said in a British television interview, "We have no doubt at this stage that those children died as a result of sectarian attack."

"It's absolutely dreadful," he said. "It's beyond words. I can quote statistics on the number of petrol bombs, shooting attacks on my officers, but these children are not statistics, these are real victims of our troubles, murdered when they slept in their beds at night. Society owes them more. Society here surely owes all children more. I think for me this changes everything."

Pub Date: 7/13/98

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