Image of the Week

DUP: Paisley; Long March 1999

Mervyn Smyth

Location: Ballymena, Co. Antrim

Photo Date: 1999

Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley addresses a mini-Twelfth demonstration on Wakehurst Avenue, Ballymena, Co. Antrim on 3 July 1999. The event was held in support of ‘The Long March' by unionists and loyalists from Derry to Drumcree church, Portadown.
The Long March was a 10-day march across Northern Ireland, organised by unionist and loyalist groups in the run-up to the Drumcree Orange Parades stand-off of July 1999. Primarily, it was an action by Protestants and unionists who felt alienated and betrayed by the Good Friday Agreement. The organisers, which included leading members of the Orange Order and the main unionist parties, claimed that the Long March was not a march purely in support of Drumcree, but had the wider aim of restoring what they termed 'civil and religious liberties' to Protestants in Northern Ireland. A central plank of the Long March was to draw attention to what the organisers called the 'real victims' of violence in Northern Ireland and among the marchers were victims and relatives of IRA attacks. The Long March followed a 120-mile roundabout route which started in Derry and arrived in Drumcree near Portadown, Co. Armagh, on 4 July, the eve of the contentious Orange parade. The Parades Commission, which rules on marches in Northern Ireland, allowed the march to go ahead, but with limitations - one banner, no uniforms or regalia and no bands to accompany the marchers. The banner carried read 'The Real Victims', but like the Orange parade at Drumcree, the marchers were not allowed to walk along nationalist streets in Portadown.

Drumcree parish church is the venue for the annual Orange Order commemoration of the First World War's Battle of the Somme. Afer the 5 July church service, the Orangemen traditionally paraded down the Catholic Garvaghy Road en route to Portadown. In 1995 Garvaghy Road residents protested against the march. The RUC blocked the parade's entry onto the Garvaghy Road in an attempt to force it to take an alternative route. The Orangemen refused to leave Drumcree church grounds unless they were allowed to parade down the Garvaghy Road. After a two-day stand-off marked by loyalist violence and road blocks across Northern Ireland, the RUC allowed the parade down the Garvaghy Road. The Drumcree parades of 1996 and 1997 were marked by the same stand-offs and loyalist violence and, again, the RUC allowed the Orangemen down the Garvaghy Road. In 1998 the new Parades Commission banned the parade from the Garvaghy Road, leading again to a bitter stand-off and loyalist violence and roadblocks across the north. On 12 July three Catholic boys were killed in a loyalist petrol bomb attack on their home in Ballymoney, Co Antrim. In the aftermath of the attack, the Drumcree protest was scaled down but was maintained unbroken until the following July. The parades of 1999 and subsequent years were also banned from the Garvaghy Road by the Parades Commission. Although these parades were marked by loyalist protest and violence, it has been on a progressively smaller scale. The parade has passed off peacefully in most recent years, but remains a significant potential source of conflict.

The Loyal Orange Institution (the Orange Order) is an exclusively Protestant fraternity founded in Armagh in September 1795 following sectarian and agrarian clashes with Catholics in Co Armagh. The institution commemorates the 17th century battle for supremacy between Protestantism and Catholicism in the British Isles, culminating with the final victory of the Dutch King William of Orange over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland on 12 July 1690 (The Twelfth).
The Orange Order's aims are to defend and uphold the Protestant faith and a Protestant monarchy in the UK. It describes itself as primarily a religious organisation that defends Protestant civil and religious liberties, expresses Protestant culture and “accepts its political responsibilities”.
At the core of Protestant civil and religious liberties is the right to parade, with The Twelfth remaining the most important date in the Orange Calendar. In the 1990s, the routes of some of these marches became a source of bitter, often violent, dispute between Protestants and Catholics who took radically different views of what the parades represent. For the Orange Order, they are an expression of their culture and heritage. For Catholics, they are a sectarian assertion of Protestant supremacy over Catholics in Northern Ireland. In the 1990s Catholics in some areas formed residents associations to demand the re-routing of Orange parades. The Orange Order condemned these demands as an assault on their civil, religious and cultural liberties. The polarisation was dramatically exposed at Drumcree in Portadown, Co Armagh, in 1998 and thereafter in other flashpoint areas in Northern Ireland.
In 1997 the independent Parades Commission was established to rule on parades in Northern Ireland. The Commission's decisions have met with criticism from both communities, with the Orange Order condemning the Commission as “cultural fascists” while for Catholics their decisions don't go far enough.