C of I urged to cancel Drumcree Orange service


Revulsion at the death of an RUC officer has led to renewed efforts to resolve the long-running dispute over the Drumcree church parade at Portadown, Co Armagh. The Alliance Party has urged the Church of Ireland to cancel the church service for Drumcree next July.

Constable Frank O'Reilly died on Tuesday from injuries caused by a blast bomb thrown during a loyalist protest on September 5th. Yesterday, the county grand master of the Orange Order in Armagh, Mr Denis Watson, condemned the "callous murder" of the policeman and urged the entire community to assist the RUC in bringing the perpetrators to justice. "It is a sad reflection that there are those in our community who are still prepared to murder to further their sinister aims," he said.

Mr Watson, who is also a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said he would be consulting fellow-Orangemen in Co Armagh, including the Portadown District, on the Drumcree issue. He said it was necessary "to reappraise the situation and look to the future, how we go forward to bring a just and lasting settlement to a very difficult problem in Portadown". The county chaplain to the Orange Order in Armagh, the Rev William Bingham, who is close to the O'Reilly family, made an appeal to the Drumcree protesters for a rethink.

"I would hope that any decent person and anybody of integrity involved in the Drumcree protest would reassess their position and look at what they are doing to Portadown, to this country and to the Orange Order.

"Frankie shouldn't have died. Frankie should have had a life ahead of him with his children and with his family and it's totally unjustifiable," he told Radio Ulster.

A statement on behalf of the Co Armagh Grand Orange Lodge said it deeply regretted the police officer's death. Condemning "all acts of violence and intimidation", the statement called on all members "to think seriously of the consequences of any actions taken in the name of Orangeism".

The president of the Alliance Party, Dr Philip McGarry, said the Church of Ireland should not hold a service for Orangemen at Drumcree next July.

"The Alliance Party believes that it would be a major contribution to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland if the Church of Ireland was now to state categorically that there will not be a service held for Orangemen at Drumcree Church in July 1999."

He said that despite the murder, "Orange leaders seem set to continue their protest. Rather than accepting any responsibility for the violence over the last three months, they lay all the blame at the Parades Commission and the Chief Constable."

The chairman of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, Mr Pat Armstrong, said: "This was another totally unnecessary death made all the more abhorrent because he died at the hands of those who would profess to be loyal to the Crown."

He added: "While those who threw the device bear the greatest responsibility for Frank O'Reilly's death, those who engineered the protests knowing full well that violence was a certain consequence must examine their consciences.

"To suggest that in some way this killing was a price to be paid for civil liberties is a deplorable insult to the memory of a brave police officer who gave his life in service to the community."

The local councillor and chief spokesman for the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, Mr Breandan Mac Cionnaith, said "everyone should reflect on the need for progress through dialogue in order to avoid such future tragedies".

The Ulster Women's Coalition for Justice has announced that as a mark of respect to the dead man's family it would postpone the protest planned for Drumcree on Saturday evening. The march was due to pass a local Catholic church while residents of the Garvaghy Road were attending evening Mass.

The postponement of the march was welcomed by the Democratic Unionist Party Assembly member, Mr Paul Berry: "I commend them for this and can state that when I spoke to them last night they were also deeply saddened at Constable O'Reilly's death and their deepest sympathy extends to the entire family circle."