Derry SDLP councillor Pat Devine objected to ‘loyalist triumphalism’ at height of parading tensions, file shows

A stand-off between the RUC and protestors on the Derry Walls in 1995.
A stand-off between the RUC and protestors on the Derry Walls in 1995.

An SDLP councillor objected to ‘loyalist triumphalism’ at the height of tensions over loyal order marches 24 years ago.

Files newly-released under the 30/20 Year Rule show Councillor Pat Devine told senior civil servants a lack of restraint by some loyalists was not conducive to public order.

During a meeting between the SDLP and the Central Community Relations Unit (CCRC) in December 1995, “Councillor Devine explained that marches have particular resonance in Derry and it was not easy to encourage a spirit of reconciliation with Loyalists ‘stomping around the walls in a triumphalist fashion causing fear.’

“The councillor believed that the people of Derry had demonstrated ‘tolerance’ of the Orange and Black marches especially bearing in mind that the cityside was 95 per cent nationalist.”

The meeting took place in December 1995 not long after the annual Apprentice Boys ‘Shutting of the Gate’ ceremony and at a time of heighened tensions around the Drumcree stand-off that had spilled over into disorder in Derry and other areas.

“The problem as he saw it, was that the marchers insisted on full routes and were not prepared to show restraint in order to come to a fair settlement and not march at the section of the walls which overlook the Bogside.

“The SDLP view was that the RUC has backed down under a threat from the Apprentice Boys that the city would be brought to a stand-still if they were not allowed to march the entire length of the walls. The SDLP wanted respect for the rule of law but the RUC decision, allowing bullying to prevail, made it difficult for them to have respect for the rule of law. Councillor Devine hoped that the events of August would not be repeated,” the note states.

A separate confidential May 31, 1996 memo from NIO minister John Wheeler’s private secretary show the then Apprentice Boys governor Alistair Simpson attended “an extremely positive dinner” during which Drumcree was discussed.

“The representatives of the loyal institutions gave the impression of people who were (a) confronting their own prejudices (b) under pressure from hard-liners within their movement (c) aware of the ‘no win’ trap which was being set by Sinn Féin to draw them into conflict with the RUC (d) deeply suspicious that Maryfield [the Irish Government] approved parade routes,” it said.