Belfast Telegraph

State papers: Drumcree a 'disaster' for communities' relationship with the RUC

A stand-off between police and Orangemen at Drumcree
A stand-off between police and Orangemen at Drumcree

By David O'Dornan

The Drumcree parade stand-off was labelled a "disaster" in newly declassified top secret files at the Public Record Office.

The assessment was made in a 1996 document from the complaints against the security forces committee, part of the Central Community Relations Unit.

The dispute was at its height in 1995 and 1996, with the Orange Order insisting on being allowed to march its traditional route to and from Drumcree Church, with residents of the nationalist Garvaghy Road opposing them walking through their area.

Clive Barbour of the Security, Policy and Operations Division had compiled the minutes of the Committee on the Security Forces and the Community (CSFC) meeting held on August 8, 1996.

He said: "Mr Perry opened the meeting, noting that it took place against the background of serious recent disorder at sites across Northern Ireland in connection with marches which had resulted in a fundamental change in attitude towards the RUC across both communities.

"Drumcree was, quite simply, a disaster for both communities and their relationship with the police. They were now as far apart as ever.

"There was a total loss of confidence in the RUC and there was criticism of its senior officers. Father Dooley, the Parish Priest in Drumcree, had said that relations between the RUC and local nationalists were at an all-time low.

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"There was a perception that the RUC had not been impartial in their dealings at Drumcree and there were some allegations of collusion in that a Catholic street had been attacked by a loyalist mob immediately after four Land Rovers had been taken away to perform other duties on 11 July."

He added: "There was also a hardening of attitudes towards the decommissioning question with the Sinn Fein position becoming more favourable."

Regarding Anglo-Irish relations, "Mr Harper noted that there had been a strained atmosphere at Maryfield since the time of the Drumcree stand-off, which was only now beginning to thaw".

"Mr Woods reported that support for Sinn Fein had clearly increased since Drumcree, with the party regaining any support lost as a result of the Manchester bombing. The nationalist community in the brigade area had felt betrayed by the RUC over action at Drumcree. It was felt that recent events could help PIRA recruitment and tourism was already being affected.

"There was apprehension that terrorism would come back onto the streets and that the political talks would fail without a Sinn Fein presence. There was frustration that the Unionists were refusing to talk about real issues. The feelings of both communities were as far apart as they had ever been."

Mr Armstrong reported that there had been civil disturbances across NI between July 7-14 in both communities.

The document added: "It was reported in Newtownstewart that 30 people had transferred their bank accounts because they had seen their bank manager at Drumcree and later on the deputy manager had been spotted at a roadblock.

"A diabetic woman in Castlederg had found her pharmacist blocking the road when she had been on her way to get her insulin supply. She had subsequently changed her chemist."

The committee also heard how sectarian violence "had increased at all interfaces and some 200 families had been forced to move out of the Torrens and Oldpark area of North Belfast" and Mr Perry gave a gloomy overview of the situation.

The report said: "In concluding the discussion, Mr Perry noted that recent events had proved disastrous for the police, political development and community relations.

"Old attitudes had re-emerged which it had hoped had been weakening. The forthcoming weekend in Londonderry [Apprentice Boys' march] would be crucial and it was possible that the RUC would be the long term losers ... What was clear was that the RUC's incremental approach towards policing marches over the past 10 years has now been shattered.

"The nationalist community had mobilised around the issue of consent in a way that had not been seen since the hunger strikes."

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