RUC chief's frustration over parades

Published Friday, 29 August 2014
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Official state papers from 1985 have revealed the frustrations of Northern Ireland’s most senior police officer over the Orange Order's "insistence" on walking through nationalist areas, something he described as an "unreasonableness" and an "injustice" to those communities.

Files released under the 30-year rule reveal senior police, civil servants and politicians were becoming increasingly frustrated over parading issues and on how to deal with them.

The 1985 papers have revealed the key roles played by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Douglas Hurd and RUC Chief Constable, Sir Jack Hermon in the a decision to re-route a controversial Twelfth Orange parade in Portadown, Co Armagh.

The issue of controversial parades occupied officials in the Northern Ireland Office in the run-up to that year's marching season.

On March 7, 1985, Paul Buxton, an NIO official, wrote to the Assistant Chief Constable, Michael McAtamney on the need "to temper the heat and emotion that is generated every year" during the marching season.

This followed the IRA mortar-bombing of Newry RUC station which killed nine officers, an escalation which put considerable strain on the security forces.

Against this background on 11 March, 1985 the head of the NI Civil Service, Sir Ken Bloomfield arranged for Bishop (now Lord) Robin Eames to provide a report on the parading issue.

The bishop pointed out that "the connection between public parades and community identity could not be over-emphasised".

As a means of calming tensions during the marching season, Bishop Eames felt that a direct appeal should be made to the leaders of the Orange Order and other loyalist organisations by the Secretary of State.

In a letter to leading Orangemen and Unionist MPs, James Molyneaux Secretary of State Douglas Hurd stressed his and the chief constable's anxiety over the risk to police at parades in "difficult or sensitive areas".

While acknowledging the importance of parades in the unionist tradition, the Tory politician urged the MPs to use their influence to ensure that "as far as possible, processions and parades avoid flashpoint and sensitive areas".

The issue was taken up by Sir Jack Hermon in a conversation with a senior NIO official later that month.

According to the documents Sir Jack's "instinct would be to encourage the Secretary of State to challenge the Orange and Black leadership over the whole basis of traditional marches at the moral level".

The papers say the police man "pointed out the sheer unreasonableness and injustice of their continued insistence on going through or past the same areas as of yore, irrespective of whether the communities living in those areas had changed completely".

The RUC chief said the marches, for nationalists were a "massive dose of inequality".

The issue continued to draw heat and at a meeting with officials on March 22, 1985, Douglas Hurd was "scathing" about an RUC decision to re-route a Hibernian parade in Portadown because of a loyalist protest.

In a final note on the file, dated March 28, 1985, it was noted that the chief constable shared Douglas Hurd's view on the parade that the RUC's refusal to let nationalists march past Loyalist demonstrators, "carried a clear moral for the treatment of the Loyalist march down Obins Street in Portadown in July, if not more widely".

Subsequently, the Twelfth of July Orange parade was re-routed away from Obins Street.

Unionists wrongly blamed "Dublin interference" and widespread rioting followed the decision.


1985 Government papers timeline:

January

  • Letters from American business representatives argued for a ban on provocative religious and political emblems in the workplace over concerns about anti-Catholic discrimination.
  • The head of the civil service, Sir Ken Bloomfield, describes Peter Robinson as a "crafty politician" after impressing during a multi-party conference in American. The usually impressive John Hume, however, gave the impression he was "politically bankrupt".

February

  • John Hume walked out of a meeting with the Provisional IRA after the paramilitaries insisted the meeting be recorded.
  • The month witnessed a dramatic rise in violence. Throughout the year, 55 people were killed including 26 civilians and 29 security force personnel.
  • Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald issued concerns over the killing of three IRA men in Strabane over fears that Dublin may be blamed for such incidents if it took a role in security matters.

March

  • Over growing tensions surrounding contentious marches, Chief Constable Sir Jack Hermon, in conversation with a senior NIO official, said the Orange Order's insistence in marching through nationalist areas was "unreasonableness and injustice".

April

  • Soon-to-be Ireland's richest man, Sean Quinn, claimed there was "significant political and sectarian discrimination" to the launch of his cement industry from the government-sponsored business-promotion organisation, the Industrial Development Board.

May

  • The British government hands IRA escapee Donal Donnelly a royal pardon during ongoing talks with republicans and nationalists over a peace agreement.
  • Sinn Féin gain ground at the expense of SDLP in council elections winning 11.8% while their rival's share dropped to 17.8%.

July

  • A confidential police report found Chief Superintendent Jimmy Crutchley gave the order to fire a plastic bullet during disorder following the death of hunger striker Joe McDonnell at the Falls Road, Belfast, which resulted in the death of 31-year-old innocent civilian Norah McCabe.
  • The re-routing of an Orange Order Twelfth parade through Obins Street in Portadown, Co Armagh sparks loyalist anger.
  • Prisoners at the Maze had their Irish Language Bibles confiscated on security grounds.

September

  • A prison officer is dismissed from his job at the Maze after his role in a mass break-out is uncovered by "good RUC detective work".
  • Head of the Civil Service, Sir Ken Bloomfield, voiced his opposition to the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement before it was signed. He labelled it one-sided, fundamentally flawed and said it could destabilise the situation in the region.

October

  • The Irish government writes to London officials requesting the UDR be withdrawn from south Armagh with either the RUC or regular army replacing them. The Irish government thought the move would be "helpful" in finding a peace agreement.
  • NIO officials urge the Secretary of State to be aware of the importance of promoting the upcoming Anglo-Irish Agreement to officials in Dublin and northern nationalists while "dampening" unionist reaction to reduce security and public order concerns.
  • NIO chiefs issued concerns about Margaret Thatcher's commitment to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They said it was keen for her to be behind the deal to stop loyalist extremists "whipping up tensions".

November

  • Margaret Thatcher and Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald sign Anglo-Irish Agreement.
  • Irish Army Chief of Staff General O'Sullivan tells NIO officials his troops would not have hesitated to fire on 11 IRA prisoners attempting to escape Portlaoise jail.

December

  • The first meeting of the new Intergovernmental Conference, establish by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, was met with wide-scale loyalist protest. Secretary of State Tom King said he felt Irish officials were "pedantic" about ensuring their share of the agreement was upheld without recognising the concern among unionists that the agreement held nothing for them.
© UTV News
Comments Comments
6 Comments
lorna in limavady wrote (88 days ago):
SEE YOU HATERS OF THE RUC they had no choice but to police and after that what was to come they were targets. blamed for starting the troubles but at the heart of it there were officers who could not object and got all sorts for hatred fired at them.
Jos in Belfast wrote (90 days ago):
Whats changed the OO still like to show off their triumphalism by wanting to march past nationalists areas.
Jim in Coleraine wrote (90 days ago):
Sir jack is gone, but i dont think he would be surprised to learn that the oo havent changed ..
John in Newtownabbey wrote (91 days ago):
Nothing has changed in the OO mindset. They can't see to this day how they are viewed by the majority of right thinking people.
big t in belfast wrote (91 days ago):
it's been known for longer than this that these March's need sorted.they r Purley sectarian and not wanted in nationalist areas.stick to ur own areas where ur community will enjoy them problem solved everyone knows this the only option
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