Loyalists resume picket protest at Catholic church in Harryville

 

The loyalist picket outside the Church of Our Lady in Harryville, Ballymena, Co Antrim, resumed during Saturday evening Mass for the first time since last spring, with protesters saying that they intended to return next weekend.

Speculation that two bands would make an appearance proved unfounded and the 100 protesters remained peaceful while the Mass was conducted. A large but low-key security presence ensured that parishioners reached the church unhindered.

The original protest began in September 1996 as a response to the decision to ban an Apprentice Boys parade through the mainly nationalist village of Dunloy. The organisers now say that the protest is a focus for loyalist frustration with the direction the Northern peace process has taken and the ongoing issue of banned parades throughout the North.

In a statement issued last week a spokesman for the protesters said: "Primarily, we would like to provide local Protestants with a means to show their opposition to current political developments and barriers to cultural expression. We seek to show the people of Ulster in a tangible way that there is still grassroots opposition to the policies of the British government in relation to the issue of parades".

Significantly, no mention was made of Dunloy, where the next Apprentice Boys parade is scheduled for the middle of May. However, a number of Dunloy Apprentice Boys were present at Saturday's protest, including the former Irish rugby international and DUP councillor, Mr David Tweed, who said he was there to observe and support the protest.

Mr Tweed, who appealed to the protesters to remain calm, said he was worried that "things could escalate" and that the IRA's continuing refusal to decommission was a "threat to the province". He added: "We feel that for far too long republicans have been getting everything their own way. It's all take and no give. We have warned that the IRA would not decommission; they have no intention of decommissioning. People really think that the IRA is going to go back to open-scale war."

The SDLP representative for the area, Mr Sean Farren, condemned the protest. "It is a matter of considerable regret that this protest has been renewed", he said. "The nature of it I regard as an attempt to deny people the right to attend church unhindered, exercising a basic and fundamental human and civil right, and that is to worship according to their own beliefs and in the manner in which they wish without the kind of intimidation which this protest implies."

The Portadown Orange District Master, Mr Harold Gracey, has denounced proposals for a "Harryville-style picket" to be placed outside a Catholic church on the Garvaghy Road.

Speaking at Drumcree yesterday, Mr Gracey said: "The Orange institution will not be involved in action which prevents people of any faith from attending their place of worship, and a picket on a Roman Catholic church in Portadown would certainly not be supported by my lodge members."