(en) Eyewitness to Derry riots

Andrew Flood (andrewflood@geocities.com)
Fri, 19 Dec 1997 15:57:13 +0000

A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA

>from RM_Distribution 18 December 1997

>>>> Eyewitness in Derry

----------------------- As an observer of the events surrounding the Lundy Day Apprentice Boys parade in Derry on Saturday last [13 Dec 1997], Cari Zall was disturbed by the media reports based on press releases issued by the RUC police that followed that situation. The following is her own account of what she witnessed on the streets of Derry last weekend. -----------------------------------

I and a friend arrived in Derry two hours before the first Lundy parade began. By 10:30am, there were armoured RUC vehicles lined up, blocking the entrances to the Diamond in the city center from the nationalist Bogside area.. The RUC were dressed in their black riot gear, but not yet fully regaled with helmets and shields. We crossed through the blockade into the Diamond, where I observed press beginning to gather and human rights observers taking a preliminary look around. At 11:45, I counted 16 armoured vehicles lining the two nationalist sides of the Diamond (this did not include the 3 lined up on Magazine St., the 4 on Linenhall St., and the others waiting below towards Williams St.), 5 large attack dogs, barking ferociously, and about 50 RUC in riot gear (not counting the numbers outside the Diamond).

An RUC officer walked up to us and asked us our business there, and after we explained we were only there to observe the parade, he stepped away. We thought we were in the clear, but moments later he returned. "I'm sorry, but my sergeant says you need to move to the other side of the Diamond. We're trying to keep this area sterile." He then nodded towards the vehicles barricaded behind us and said, "besides, you're in the line of fire." My eyebrows shot up and I stiffened, about to respond to that statement, but he saw my reaction and ushered us away before I could utter, "are you PLANNING to fire?"

A little after noon we watched local MP John Hume walk into the department store overlooking the Diamond, where he sat in the third floor picture window and watched the events of the day. Not once did he come down to intervene or try to calm the situation with the people of his city. A few young fellows coming out of the Richmond Center were stopped and pushed backwards into the store by the RUC men standing guard. This action caused everyone else who was trying to exit the store to be crushed back inside. They panicked, and tried to push back out. There was a 5-minute shoving match between the store customers and the police. About 25 RUC forced all the people back inside the store, pulling the metal shutter down on them. In response, every storefront window shutter around the Diamond went down like dominoes. The entire area was now closed down tight except for two or three shops and a cafe on the Bishop Street side.

The first parade of the day finished and Apprentice Boys and their girls and friends began pouring down Bishop into the Diamond. Two small groups of kids (probably around age 15-16) coming in opposite directions met each other right in front of us. Quick business took place, one group selling UVF paraphernalia to the other, including key chains for "Company C". All this under the casual observation of an RUC officer standing right there. At this point we decided to get to the other side of the blockades before we were trapped on this side.

We joined about 30 people, including other observers and some of the Sinn Fein leaders and residents group leaders at the Butcher Street blockade. The RUC were now fully dressed in their balaclavas, helmets and riot shields. At one point the crowd surged forward and the RUC closed ranks and shoved them back. Tensions rose and people shouted and pushed back. Martin McGuinness, who had been standing on the small Butcher Street with other community leaders, pushed himself through the crowd (which now numbered a little over 50) and planted his body right between the RUC line and the upset residents. The crowd calmed and backed down. He remained there, by himself, between the RUC line and the crowd throughout the parade that was to come. No other community leaders except the residents group leaders and Republican leaders did anything to try and calm the situation, much less join their own people or put themselves in the midst of danger.

After the second parade left the Diamond, we heard there was trouble over at the Shipquay St. blockade, so we and the other observers went there to find a crowd of close to 1,000 people gathered in the street. Most were standing silently, waiting to see what the RUC would do. Up front, a group of about 15 boys, none older than 12, were throwing rocks at the armoured trucks. One RUC officer showed his plastic bullet gun. The bulk of the crowd is made of older men, children, women and middle-aged couples. At about 3:10pm, a petrol bomb launched from the crowd towards the RUC line. It hit the street in front of the trucks. Two more are thrown, and the RUC responded with plastics. They fired directly on the crowd, the children still little more than 25 feet in front of the RUC line. Everyone instantly ducked, then started running as fast as they could. We ran with half the crowd down around the corner of Castle St. to cover behind the building walls. We waited at the bottom of Castle Street, against the city walls. The RUC armoured vehicles advanced from the Diamond at a very high speed, two of them turning on to Castle street and stopping at the top of it to face our wee crowd, the others raced down the Shipquay. Young boys threw rocks again at them, but only for minutes before the RUC decided to run a baton charge toward us. We were on the run again, left down Magazine St. to the gate at the bottom. Most of the crowd dispersed at this point and headed back toward the Bogside.

At about 4:15, we came on to the Strand Road to see a lorry burning in the middle of the street. It had been burning for quite a while, but there were no police or firemen anywhere. No one was around it -- in fact the square was practically deserted. We turned right and go up the Strand towards the city walls again. When we passed Waterloo, we saw that another bus has been set on fire, and we saw a crowd of about 200 standing-- silently watching the bus burn. Further down another lorry was burning and a small van was just caught on fire as well. It was a freezing night and seemed as if everyone was gathered around the burning bus just for the warmth of the fire. Close to 5pm, from up the street, the RUC roared on the scene from around the corner of the city walls in full baton charge and with trucks racing. They stopped at the corner of the square in front of Waterloo St. A small remnant of the crowd peered around the corner of Waterloo, but most left the area completely. >From down the Strand more RUC roared up and the people were now cornered in the square and had no where to go but up Waterloo. The "crowd" was now made up mostly of kids, very few even over 13 or 14. This is where the stand off continued for the next 5 hours at least.

By 5:30pm. the British Army had rolled onto the Strand, two Saracens and many soldiers with machine guns. They stay at the far end of the square, however, and linger at the junction of the Strand and Chamberlain St. There were soldiers crouched at the corners of every building with guns aimed in all directions around the square. There were only a few people walking about in this area, and the Army presence seemed absurd to the onlooker. We stood with about six observers and perhaps 4 or 5 newsmen with cameras and less than 20 adult residents in the square where the RUC continued their face off with the kids hiding around the Waterloo St. corner. There were at most 20 children, none older than 12 years of age. They were tiny boys and girls, hurling rocks and pieces of plaster around the corner at the RUC trucks. The RUC taunted and provoked them-- surging forward, driving straight for them extremely fast, scattering the kids. The trucks and charging "riot-controllers" with their raised batons would then stop, stand there at Waterloo St for half an hour, then retreat back to their former position at the caddy corner of the city walls. This pattern went on for HOURS. Even the Army got into the game when they decided their Saracens wouldn't turn around on the Strand, so they drove up to the square where the face off is and raced around it, screeching towards the children, scattering them momentarily, and head back out of the area. Three of the RUC armoured trucks also decided to vacate the scene and raced past the children and the wee ones hurled rocks at the passing jeeps. The RUC screached right past us and I could clearly see them laughing as they drove off.

We left the scene at 9:30, and the remaining RUC were still taunting the children. The day after, the unionist politicians were quick to state that the riots were "orchestrated" by Republican leaders -- what was not mentioned was the unionist intransigence in not consenting to compromise with residents on the length or breadth of the parading that day. The small riots that emerged after the parade were spontaneous affairs, and the burnings of the lorries and buses commenced AFTER the RUC had opened plastics fire on the large crowd on Shipquay Street. That crowd was peaceful, except for a small group of children up front who threw rocks at the RUC trucks. If it was orchestrated, it was very bad orchestration since we were all shocked and running in every direction when the firing began. The claims of orchestration are absurd. I wasn't at every small riot scene, but the initial ones that I was in the midst of and later ones that I observed from a short distance consisted of no more than 20 or so children throwing rocks, plaster pieces, bricks, sticks and empty bottles at the RUC trucks. In the disturbances I was near, I observed a total of 5 petrol bombs thrown. And after 5:30 pm, the "rioters" were only that small group of boys on Waterloo Street, who would have surely gone home to their tea if the RUC had just pulled out of there and left them alone. It was unadulterated provocation and a planned strategy of pushing the residents out of the city walls and back towards the Bogside.

My observations of Derry: The nationalist people of Derry, much like those of Belfast, live in a state of siege. But unlike those in Belfast, the Derry residents are more easily angered and have had enough of the provocation. That city sees at LEAST four of these sectarian parades a year where they are blocked out of their own city and put in these situations=D6the Orangemen never talking with residents groups about any compromise on the parades.

The residents were brutally betrayed by Bloody Sunday and it seems that their behavior is in direct result of that betrayal when they are provoked by the RUC. Their MP is John Hume, and yet his advocacy for them seems limited to when he is comfortably in front of a television camera. It is NOT normal for the people of Derry (or those of Belfast, Portadown, Lurgan, South Armagh, etc., etc=D6) to live this way-- and yet it has been their "normality" for 30 years. And the press still reports in the aftermath that there were "rioting catholics" but make no mention of the causes of the disturbances or how they can be practically avoided in the future. That was what I saw in Derry on Saturday.

-- ends --

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