Heavy security set for Portadown parade
A heavy security presence is expected at Portadown today as the first Orange parade of 1999 takes place in the town this afternoon.
The parade, the latest to be staged in support of the continuing Drumcree protest, has been organised by the Portadown Orange District. It is expected to be the forerunner of a number of similar parades in Portadown in the first few months of the new year. This afternoon's march differs from previous marches in that it assembles in the Park Road area at the lower end of the flashpoint Garvaghy Road. Park Road was the scene of sporadic violence at the height of the Drumcree standoff in July last year.
It is expected that security forces will deploy in strength to prevent any possible confrontation between rival factions before today's march begins.
From Park Road the Orangemen will parade through Portadown town centre, where they plan to hold a short protest rally. The marchers will then make their way to Drumcree along the Dungannon Road past the contentious Craigwell Avenue, Garvaghy Road and St John's Catholic Church areas. Once again a strong security presence is expected along this potentially volatile route. It is believed that the British Army will again erect temporary screens at the top of Garvaghy Road in an attempt to establish a buffer zone between the Orangemen and nationalist residents.
A similar tactic was successfully employed by the army earlier this week during an Apprentice Boys parade to Drumcree. On that occasion the march passed without major incident.
The area around St John's Church is particularly contentious. Recently the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition accused Orangemen and their supporters of "unacceptable behaviour" close to the church.
The group says Orangemen and bands stopped and then played and sang sectarian tunes outside the church, an accusation local Orangemen deny.
The parade is once again subject to restrictions imposed by a Parades Commission determination. The restrictions cover interface areas and sensitive locations. In such areas the commission has stated that the behaviour of bands and marchers should be "dignified and respectful".
However, the Residents' Coalition claims these restrictions were totally ignored and has called on the Parades Commission to publicly announce what action it will take to ensure such directions are fully complied with in the event of future parades.
A spokesman for the Portadown Orange District said that today's parade would be strictly marshalled. The spokesman also warned those coming to Portadown with the intention of causing trouble to stay away.