Scaled-down security operation planned for Drumcree this year

 

A senior Police Service of Northern Ireland officer has said security could be scaled down at next month's Orange Order march in Drumcree, Co Armagh.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen White, who is in charge of the operation at Drumcree, said he was considering plans aimed at refining the huge security operations of previous years.

The North's Parades Commission has yet to rule on the march but the Orange Order is likely to be banned from walking down the Garvaghy Road. The parade has been blocked since 1997. However, the numbers of people attending the protest have dwindled in recent years.

Mr White said he hoped there would be no serious disorder at Drumcree.

"There seems to be no stomach or desire in the Portadown area for the type of violence we are seeing around Belfast. Both sides, the Orangemen and nationalist residents on the Garvaghy Road, are well aware that violence only begets violence."

He declined to outline his plans but said: "My desire is to perform this operation with a more sophisticated touch than previous years if possible. My desire is to police the operation, whatever the Parades Commission determination, in such a way that it is proportionate to these views and the actual threat posed."

The Parades Commission's determination is due by Monday. It would be a major surprise if Orangemen were allowed to march down the Garvaghy Road. Mr White warned that the security forces were still prepared to take action against trouble-makers.

Up to 1,000 police officers and four army battalions can be drafted in to combat disorder.

"The water cannon and public order support groups will also be at my disposal as in previous years," he said.

"If we can police it with a less militaristic way, that keeps the potential for violence to a minimum; that will be a very positive contribution.

"But I warn anyone involved in criminal behaviour they are likely to be dealt with very robustly."

Mr Breandán Mac Cionnaith, spokesman for the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, said he would not be surprised by a scaled-down security operation.

"Drumcree protesters have decreased from 20,000 a few years ago to 2,000 to 3,000 last year. The protests themselves have been less violent.

"So I can see the case for pulling back on the major fortifications."

An Orange Order spokeswoman said she would wait until the Parades Commission ruling before commenting on security plans.