Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Bogside Residents' Group


  The issue of contentious parades in Derry goes right back to the formation of the Apprentice Boys in 1814. Prior to this there had been a degree of what is known in today's jargon as cross-community participation in commemorating the Siege of Derry. The ABOD changed all that and turned the commemoration into an exclusively Unionist and Protestant event.

  The ABOD Association, like the Orange Order was firmly entrenched in the anti Home Rule protests orchestrated by the British Tories in the latter part of the 19th Century. For example, Kevin Haddick-Flynn in Orangeism the Making of a Tradition, (Wolfhound, Dublin, 1999) notes that political connection was established early on with the presence of Unionist MP, William Johnston of Ballykilbeg at the Lundy parade of 1869 and also the Twelfth of August parade in 1871, at which he precipitated a full-scale riot.

  John F Harbinson, in The Ulster Unionist Party 1882-1973, (Blackstaff, Belfast, 1973) states that in 1911 the Ulster Unionist Council in a series of reforms provided that representatives from the ABOD would have places on the Council. The ABOD retained these places until 1972 when as a result of divisions within unionism, they withdrew.

  In 1920 the 12 August ABOD parade in Derry precipitated major confrontations during which 20 people died in gun battles involving the British Army, the IRA and loyalists including members of the recently formed B Specials who used Derry's walls to fire down into the Bogside.

  During all this time nationalists were prohibited from parading in the city centre under any circumstances. Indeed, nationalists had to leave the walled city once the Town bell was sounded. Furthermore, during the 12 August and 18 December ABOD commemorations, Catholics were subject to assaults and attacks from Apprentice Boys and their supporters. There was organised opposition to Apprentice Boys' parades in the 1930s. These involved protests which were suppressed by the RUC. A more passive approach was adopted by some residents living adjacent to the Walls; they would often put more turf on their fires in order to cloud the area in smoke.

  Parades along the Walls were particularly controversial. Apprentice Boys would hurl missiles, including pennies onto the streets of the Bogside to demonstrate their contempt for people living there.

  John F Harbinson, in the Ulster Unionist Party 1882-1973, (Blackstaff, Belfast, 1973) states that the ABOD opposed the Civil Rights Association march of 5 October 1968, saying it was merely an excuse for a demonstration by republicans and nationalists who wouldn't show respect to the War Memorial. As a result and with the hope of getting the parade banned, the ABOD gave notice on 1 October that a party from Liverpool would be met by them at Waterside Railway Station from where they would march to their Memorial Hall via the Diamond. At the Hall the Liverpool men were to be initiated in what the ABOD claimed was an "annual" event. It was, of course, a bi-annual event and this particular ceremony could only be conducted on 12 August and 18 December. Nevertheless, while Craig as Minister for Home Affairs had banned all "public" processions, but as the ABOD parade was deemed a "private" affair, it would be allowed to proceed. Naturally, when Derry citizens discovered that Liverpudlians could parade in their town while they were banned, they determined to carry on with the Duke Street demonstration. A senior Apprentice Boy has stated publicly that the opposition to the 5 October Civil Rights march was not an official ABOD position.

  Niall O Dochartaigh in From Civil Rights to Armalites, (Cork Univ Press, Cork, 1997) outlines the increasing tension in the run-up to the ABOD 12 August march. Direct negotiations between Derry Citizens Defence Committee representatives and the ABOD collapsed when the Apprentice Boys refused to countenance any real changes to their proposed route. The Battle of the Bogside followed and within three days British soldiers were back on the streets of Derry. Apprentice Boys' marches in the city were seriously curtailed over the next six years until 1975. Their parades on the Walls were banned until 1995.

  I use these points to demonstrate that nationalist and Catholic experience of the Apprentice Boys is totally at variance from Apprentice Boys' claims of being purely a cultural and historical organisation.


  At the end of July 1995, the Londonderry Sentinel reported that the ABOD were intent on marching the full circuit of Derry's Walls for the first time since 1969. Naturally, this aroused much controversy in the city, particularly in the Bogside where people could recall how the Apprentice Boys had treated Catholics with contempt during these marches. It must be recalled that the Apprentice Boys' marches through Derry city centre had continued to bring confrontation to the city. The most vociferous opposition to the parades came from SDLP and business spokespersons who regularly condemned the disruption, the paramilitary displays and attendant British Army and RUC harassment of nationalists, but in effect did nothing discernible to resolve the issue. However, since the mid-1980's Apprentice Boys marches through Derry City centre had happened in what can only be described as a spirit of "grudging tolerance". However, almost a year after the announcement of the 1994 IRA cessation, it came as a shock to most Derry people that the Apprentice Boys were once again seeking to march round the Walls.

  Following the report in the Sentinel, a public meeting was held in Pilot's Row on Thursday 10 August at which it was decided to seek a meeting with the ABOD in an effort to avoid any confrontation. In the event of the Apprentice Boys refusing to engage, it was agreed that a peaceful protest would take place on Derry's Walls overlooking the Bogside. The Apprentice Boys refused to meet not only the BRG but also the Mayor, Cllr John Kerr and other elected representatives. The BRG protestors were forcibly removed from the Walls by the RUC. At all times our protest was peaceful and dignified. Later that day Apprentice Boys on the Walls hurled insults and missiles from the Walls at local residents below in full view of the RUC in scenes reminiscent of what had occurred prior to 1969. That afternoon, local people were baton-charged from the City Centre following a disgraceful display of triumphalism by a band from Portadown during which people were insulted and assaulted. Serious rioting following with over 300 plastic bullets being fired.


  Several months later, the BRG met two members of the Apprentice Boys, both of whom emphasised that they acted as individuals. However, proposals were exchanged and while nothing of substance came from these, the meeting marked the beginning of a process of dialogue between ourselves and the ABOD.

  In the meantime, a major crisis was developing in Portadown where nationalists on Garvaghy Road believed that the compromise of an Orange Order march in 1995 would mean no further marches without agreement. The matter came to a head in early July 1996 when the march was banned. Unionists across the north started blocking roads, often as RUC and British Army personnel stood by watching. In Derry, Craigavon Bridge was blocked as well as main roads from Derry to Belfast and Dublin, Larne Harbour and the International Airport. After five days of major disruption, the British Government bowed to unionist intimidation and forced the march through the Garvaghy Road area, batoning men, women and children off the streets in the process. The hurt felt by nationalists of all political persuasions was compounded when residents on Lower Ormeau were curfewed in their homes for over 24 hours to facilitate two 12 July Orange marches.

  Reaction among nationalists was one of immense anger. During three nights of rioting in Derry alone, over 3,000 plastic bullets were fired; one man was killed, crushed by a three-ton Saxon tank, and over 300 people were injured by plastic bullets. Once the smoke, so to speak, had cleared, people's attention switched to the proposed Apprentice Boy march on August 12. Understandably, there was widespread concern that major confrontation would occur if the Apprentice Boys' marches went ahead as planned. There were calls from many quarters, most notably, from the Derry Journal for the Apprentice Boys to be banned from the West Bank of Derry, as had been the case between 1969 and 1975. The BRG never adopted this position for two reasons. Firstly, in effect it would abandon nationalists living on the East Bank, particularly in Gobnascale, to the prospect of thousands of Apprentice Boys banned from the West Bank running amok in the Waterside. Secondly, it would send a message to the small unionist population on the West Bank that they were not wanted on this side of the river. All of that would have been academic, however, if the Apprentice Boys did not negotiate; in such a scenario public anger would have been such that any Apprentice Boys march in Derry at that time would have met with widespread opposition.

  The BRG adopted a more principled approach in that it insisted that no Apprentice Boys feeder parades would be forced through nationalist areas en route to Derry. The Apprentice Boys themselves claimed to exist to commemorate the Siege of Derry. That being so, nationalists in Derry asked what connection the Siege of Derry had with a march down the Lower Ormeau Road or through Dunloy, for example. By late July, the Apprentice Boys had agreed to meet the BRG face to face under the Chairpersonship of John Hume. Four meetings followed but we failed to reach agreement because the Apprentice Boys could not or would not deliver on a commitment that no feeder marches would be forced through nationalist areas. However, the fact that the negotiations had taken place at all was significant and, in our opinion, was very instrumental in ensuring that 12 August passed off largely peacefully in Derry.

  In the intervening years, a variety of processes have been used to try and resolve the issue. These have met with varying degrees of success, most notably in 1998. 1999 was a major setback for the process when a march was forced through the Ormeau Road for the first time since 1996. However, following the banning of this year's Lower Ormeau march, an understanding was reached in Derry that ensured a largely peaceful day. For the first time, there was agreement that the process to reach an accommodation needs to start early, a welcome departure from the crisis management talks of recent times.

  The first question which often springs to mind when one examines the issue of contentious parades in an overall context is—why can Portadown or Lower Ormeau not do what Derry is doing? The reality is that the context is totally different. For example, in Portadown a minority community is being told—not even asked—that they have to accept a march by an organisation representing the majority community through their neighbourhood, a march that, for many nationalists, epitomises inequality in Portadown. Nationalists in Derry do not have that same sense of inequality, at least not on the West Bank of the Foyle.


  The first comment we would make in relation to the current Parades Commission concerns its makeup. In terms of class and politics it is very imbalanced and gender balance is non-existent. We have pointed this out to the Commission, who have in turn pointed out to us that they have no role in terms of appointments. There is a strong case for co-options to counter any real or perceived imbalances.

  Secondly, it has always been our opinion that either forcing marches through areas where there is opposition to them or re-routing them is not a solution. We want agreement based on respect and equality arrived at through various processes of dialogue. We believe that the Parades Commission should base its decisions, when required, on what is best in terms of promoting the possibility of finding an accommodation. The previous Chair of the Commission was quite enthusiastic in describing the Commission as the Parades Commission, not the No-Parades Commission. This gives rise to the strong suspicion among nationalists that the agenda of the Parades Commission is to arrive at a scenario where marches and parades take place with or without agreement through currently contentious routes. This can be seen in its approach to Garvaghy Road, where a march has been promised if a number of conditions are met by the Orange Order; the views of residents do not appear to count in this scenario.

  The Parades Commission should consider the history of contentious marches and seek a complete and absolute resolution of the issue over a period of time.


  Earlier, we outlined the overt political nature of the ABOD dating back to the early 19th Century. The Sentinel reported on 30 March 1972 that ABOD's General Committee was "deeply shocked and grieved" at the suspension of Stormont. They called for its immediate restoration and further called on "the members of the Apprentice Boys Association to support the efforts of the Vanguard movement in its resistance to the sell-out of the loyalist people of Ulster by the Westminster Government and Parliament". The Sentinel also reported on 18 December 1985 that at the Lundy's Day parade the previous Saturday, Apprentice Boys General Secretary, John Noble said "that the large attendance at this year's celebration was due mainly to opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement". He stated that "the number of people present this year shows the feeling of opposition to the agreement and the celebrations are being used as one way of making their protest" (our italics).

  Since 1995, however, it has been noticeable that, unlike the Orange Order, the ABOD have been less outspoken on political issues. For example, the Orange Order publicly opposed the Good Friday Agreement and called on its members to vote against it; the ABOD refused to either endorse or oppose the Agreement and left the matter of voting to individual members. This is significant because in recent years the ABOD have emphasised that they are primarily a historical and cultural organisation; they have organised activities linked to the Siege other than marches. We consider these moves in a very positive light; not because we believe that Apprentice Boys are not entitled to hold views, negative or otherwise on political issues—they are—but because it is our view that any organisation which clings to the sectarianism of the past is doomed to self-destruct.

  Perhaps, the Apprentice Boys have embarked on a process of regeneration that we hope will transform the organisation into a truly historical and cultural body existing to commemorate an event of immense significance not only in Derry but in the whole of Ireland. It is too early to say if this will happen. However, we are certain that if they don't, the ABOD will cease to be an organisation of any significance in the 21st Century.

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