Labour MP and observer allege RUC harassment

 

The atmosphere was calm on the Garvaghy Road yesterday as the Co Armagh Orange Lodges held their annual demonstration in the town away from nationalist areas.

However, a visiting Labour MP and an international observer yesterday complained that they were being stopped and questioned excessively at police checkpoints in Portadown. A police spokesman has denied the claims.

Mr Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP for Islington North, who arrived yesterday for a day-long visit to Portadown at the invitation of nationalist residents, told The Irish Times he had been stopped and questioned five times by mid-afternoon. He described the town as "surreal".

"On each occasion it has been very clear to me the police officers who've stopped me know exactly who I am and exactly why I am here." He said that while on a tour of the estate with members of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition he had been prevented from visiting St John the Baptist Catholic Church on the top of the road.

Mr Corbyn said he was stopped for a fifth time yesterday as he was travelling from the town centre.

An international observer from South Africa, Mr Heeten Kalan, claimed he had been singled out by army personnel and subsequently questioned by the RUC three times over recent days. A spokesman for the RUC in Portadown said he was "flabbergasted" at the suggestion that visitors were being harassed. "People must understand that there are security problems in the town and if they choose to travel around a high-security area they must expect to be stopped."

A spokesman for the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, Mr Breandan Mac Cionnaith, yesterday called on the Portadown Orangemen to engage in substantive and sustained dialogue with the nationalist residents.

The Sinn Fein Assembly member for Upper Bann, Ms Dara O'Hagan, said the residents were still "suspicious" that a secret deal has been done between the Orangemen and the British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, over the Drumcree march.