Unionist leader said too many ‘kick the pope’ bands in marches

James Molyneaux made admission during 1985 talks over Orange parades

James Molyneaux said it would be a disastrous mistake for the chief constable to respond by taking on the main body of respectable marchers. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea

James Molyneaux said it would be a disastrous mistake for the chief constable to respond by taking on the main body of respectable marchers. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea

 

Unionists accepted in the mid-1980s there were too many “kick the pope” bands getting involved in Orange marches, according to files released in Belfast.

The vexed issue of parades concentrated the attention of the Northern Ireland Office, the RUC and the Irish government in the summer of 1985, the files show.

British secretary of state Douglas Hurd met Orange Order Grand Master and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MP Rev Martin Smyth to discuss the issue in April.

Mr Hurd was concerned at the diversion of police resources towards parades.

He appealed to Rev Smyth to use his influence to ensure parades were planned so as to minimise police involvement.

Rev Smyth recognised there were “rowdy elements in some lodges” but blamed the RUC for creating problems by having too great a presence at marches. He said it was difficult to co-operate effectively with the RUC.

For example, his suggestion to the chief constable Sir John Hermon of a two-year moratorium on marches had come to nothing.

The issue of parades in Portadown was raised at a June 1985 meeting between Mr Hurd and a unionist delegation of three MPs – UUP leader James Molyneaux, Harold McCusker and Rev Smyth.

“Unionists accepted that there were too many bands of the ‘Kick the Pope’ type getting involved in legitimate Orange marches,” Mr Molyneaux said.

However, it would be a disastrous mistake for the chief constable to respond by taking on the main body of respectable marchers, he said.

“The chief constable had to be pulled back from the brink of detonating Northern Ireland.” If he were pulled back, they would assist the secretary of state “to reduce the number of coat-trailing parades,” Mr Molyneux said.

Serious situation

In effect “the Orange leaders have stood aside in favour of people who, if provoked, would seek to incite a riot”.

Mr McCusker proposed a compromise that would allow a church parade on July 7th to proceed along its usual route while constraints could be placed on the “more heated marches” of July 12th/13th .

This compromise was adopted by the RUC, resulting in clashes between the police and nationalists when the church parade was forced through the main nationalist area and two days of rioting on July 12th/13th when another march was prevented from following the same route.

When Mr McCusker publicly blamed the re-routing decision on “Dublin interference”, Mr Hurd wrote to him in a letter dated July 22nd, 1985 to say he would defend the tradition of parades but “its abuses must be eliminated if it is not to be a cause of bitterness, disorder and a waste of police resources”.