A residents group at the centre of the Drumcree parades dispute planned to take former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam hostage, the Nelson inquiry was told last night.
The inquiry heard previously secret claims that at the height of the Drumcree stand-off Ms Mowlam was warned of intelligence of a plan to kidnap her — a revelation that offers a new perspective on a key turning point in the violent saga.
The Drumcree parades dispute saw residents in the Catholic enclave in the mainly Protestant Portadown object to Orange Order parades through the area.
Tensions surrounding the issue caused widespread violence, but in his testimony Sir Ronnie gave an insight into his recollections of key events in 1997.
During that summer Ms Mowlam had launched proximity talks between the GRRC and the Orange Order — but offered a pledge that if that July’s parade was forced down the road, the Secretary of State would break the news to Garvaghy Road residents personally.
In a statement to the inquiry, Sir Ronnie said: “I recall that there was intelligence to suggest that if she went to the road there was a risk that she would be held hostage by the residents, although there was no intelligence to suggest her life was in danger. She was therefore unable to inform the residents personally and following this situation she was focused on trying to rebuild the damage that had been caused by not following through on her promise.”
The parade was pushed through at night despite attempts by residents to block the route. Scenes of police having to clear the way for marchers damaged relations between nationalists and police.
But it also caused residents to claim they had been double-crossed by Ms Mowlam, souring relations in a dispute that caused violence for years.
Sir Ronnie also claimed the GRRC and its figurehead, former republican prisoner Breandan MacCionnaith was influenced by Sinn Fein. The former RUC chief said: “Breandan MacCionnaith and the others were doing the organising but (there was) the view that they were under the control of Sinn Fein.”