Volatile Orange Order parade approved in N. Ireland

Ban on march is reversed despite fears of violence

July 11, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DUBLIN, Ireland -- The British government in Northern Ireland approved yesterday the holding of a perennially contentious Protestant Orange Order parade tomorrow near a Roman Catholic neighborhood in Belfast, the capital of the northern province.

Despite the Catholic residents' objections that the event could produce violent clashes, as it has in the past, the Parades Commission said the Orange march could muster in a park across the narrow Lagan River, several hundred yards from the Catholic enclave on Lower Ormeau Road.

Last year, violence was averted when the commission refused to allow the parade to pass in front of Catholic houses.

Last week, the commission had denied the Orange Order the right to gather in the park, but it changed its decision yesterday, allowing the event to be held.

Hundreds of police officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are expected to patrol the area, particularly a bridge that connects the park and the Catholic neighborhood.

"This was a difficult decision to make, and we are conscious of the worries in the Catholic community," said Alastair Graham, the chairman of the government-appointed commission.

Of the Protestants who will march, he said, "They have made significant changes, and we are convinced this can be a peaceful gathering."

Major violence tomorrow could further delay the next step in the peace effort in the province. This week, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are supposed to form a Cabinet to pave the way for the transfer of government powers from London under the terms of a proposal by Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Bertie Ahern of Ireland.

But there is no certainty that this will happen, as Protestant leaders have serious misgivings about sharing a Cabinet with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. The Protestant Unionists want the IRA to start disarming before Sinn Fein is allowed Cabinet posts. The IRA, which has observed a cease-fire for two years, says it has no intention of disarming.

Tomorrow's parade in Belfast will be one of hundreds around the predominantly Protestant province celebrating the victory in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 by the army of William of Orange, the Protestant king who defeated his Catholic father-in-law, James II. Most of the parades cause no trouble. But a few, like the Lower Ormeau Road march, have been volatile.

Pub Date: 7/11/99

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