Nationalist residents of Belfast’s Lower Ormeau Road vote overwhelmingly on August 4, 2000 against allowing Orange Order parades through the flashpoint district. Results indicate that over 90% of those polled in a secret vote on the mainly nationalist lower Ormeau area of south Belfast want such parades rerouted.
The nationalist residents’ group, the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC), which organised the ballot, says the majority of the 600 people who voted want the parades rerouted. In a statement it says it welcomes the result as “an overwhelming and democratic expression of our community’s desire to live free from sectarian harassment”.
LOCC spokesman Gerard Rice says, “We do not claim to speak for loyalist residents.” He adds that the loyal orders will now have to listen to the people of the area. “The whole point in this exercise was not to vindicate our position, but to set out clearly an informed position as to what exactly the opinion in our community is and has been for many years,” he tells BBC Radio Ulster.
“The Orange Order and other loyal institutions have said for many, many years that really people living on the Ormeau Road want parades. That they are actually a colourful event that people can enjoy. We have said that many people within our community would say parades by the loyal institutions were seen as sectarian, coat trailing exercises, the institutions were seen as anti-Catholic and sectarian organisations. Now we can actually say that 95.9% of our community believe that to be true.”
However, the Belfast County Grand Master of the Orange Order rejects the results of the poll. Dawson Baillie says the vote was unrepresentative because it did not include the staunchly loyalist Donegall Pass area and the Ballynafeigh district above the Ormeau Bridge. “We believe that it’s our right and everyone’s right to walk down a main thoroughfare. We’re not going into side streets on the right hand side of that part of the Ormeau Road or the left hand side. We go straight down the main thoroughfare. Our parade at any given point would take no more than three to four minutes to pass.”
Unionists question the validity of the poll as it excludes nearby loyalist areas. Dawn Purvis of the Progressive Unionist Party says the poll would not help to resolve the situation. “You don’t get people to enter into talks on the basis of no parade. You get people to enter into talks on the basis of an accommodation,” she says. “If that poll had been held to show what concerns the people of Lower Ormeau have over loyal order parades, that would have been better, that would have been a way forward, trying to address the concerns of the residents of the Lower Ormeau Road. LOCC have not been forthcoming with those concerns so the talks haven’t moved forward.”
Reverend Martin Smyth, the Belfast South MP, says it had been “a stage managed exercise” to show how well the group could conduct their business in that area and “to gather support from those who don’t want a procession down that road.”
However, Rice rejects the suggestions that it is unrepresentative because loyalist areas had been left out. Another LOCC representative, John Gormley, says they would welcome equivalent ballots from the loyalist part of the Ormeau area.
Local parish priest Father Anthony Curran says he is satisfied with the conduct of the vote. “A large number of people seem to have come out, a very broad section of the community, elderly young middle-aged, sick. They came free from fear and intimidation.”
A similar poll was last conducted in the Lower Ormeau area in 1995 by management consultants Coopers & Lybrand, when a large majority voted against allowing loyalist marches in the area.
The Northern Ireland Parades Commission has barred the Orange Order from marching through the Lower Ormeau area during its Twelfth of July demonstrations for the previous two years.
(From: “Poll ‘rejects’ loyal order parades” by BBC News (news.bbc.co.uk), August 4, 2000)