The North's power-sharing Executive tonight condemned the violence and disruption connected to the Drumcree stand-off over the past few days. Deputy First Minister, Seamus Mallon, and Enterprise Minister, Sir Reg Empey, disclosed that an American trade delegation led by the US Ambassador was forced to pull out of a visit to the North yesterday because of the disturbances. Mr Mallon called for dialogue at a local level to resolve the Drumcree stand-off, claiming that it was the ordinary people of Portadown and Northern Ireland who were suffering as a result of the disturbances. He also condemned what he called the cynical ploy to exploit the problems in Portadown and rampant sectarianism.
The Grand Master of the Orange Order has called for the violence to end, warning that it was damaging the organisation. He said that anyone who wants to support the stance of the Portadown Orangemen should do so peacefully. Robert Saulters also called for tomorrow to be observed as a memorial day for motorcyclist Joey Dunlop, who is to be buried in Ballymoney. The vehicle bringing Mr Dunlop's remains from Dublin Airport to his hometown of Ballymoney in County Antrim was diverted several times yesterday, because of road blockades set up by Loyalist protestors. He said that demonstrations should be suspended.
Leading Protestant clergymen have called for an end to the protests. The Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Trevor Morrow, said that the protests were an insult and a disgrace. The Church of Ireland Primate, Dr Robin Eames, said that Northern Ireland was being pushed further and further back into what he called the "bad old days". David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party accused the Grand Lodge of the Orange Order of failing to provide proper leadership and of using the Drumcree issue to attack David Trimble.
Speaking on Morning Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly member for East Belfast said that he thought the situation was now desperately out of control, and that the Grand Lodge wanted the Garvaghy Road issue to become a large political statement. He said local that lodges of the Orange Order had voted to talk to the Parades Commission, but that the Grand Lodge had banned them from doing so. He said that current paramilitary involvement in the protests and violence is "tiny, compared to what it could be", and said that he fears paramilitarists will try to take advantage of Drumcree's populist cause.
British troops were deployed on the streets in Belfast for the first time in nearly two years to help deal with a fourth night of rioting. Blockades were set up in several Loyalist areas as the RUC came under attack by protestors throwing bricks, bottles and petrol bombs. This morning, a British soldier received minor injuries during a confrontation with a group of around 50 Nationalist youths in Lurgan.
Belfast was attempting to show a different face to the world this morning. As the city attempted to return to normal after last night's disturbances, the Lord Mayor was promoting the forthcoming rose week and appealing for calm. The Tourist Board chief said that the present season had been effectively ruined by the Drumcree-related protests over the past three days. Yesterday evening in Sandy Row and several other Loyalist areas, barricades were set up and security forces were attacked with petrol bomb and other missiles.
British troops were deployed in Belfast at the request of the RUC to provide support, as the protests increased. A British Army statement said that there had been 61 outbreaks of public disorder, some of them minor, within a 24-hour period, more than the whole of last year. In contrast, the scene at Drumcree was relatively quiet. Laser pens were shone towards security forces and some fireworks were thrown at them. A stack of tyres was set alight beside the steel barricade blocking the road near the church. Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness went to Portadown this afternoon to meet Nationalist residents from the Garvaghy Road.
Violence also flared in the County Down fishing village of Kilkeel when police moved in to protect a Catholic family who were leaving their home, after it was attacked by a large gang of Loyalist youths, some of whom were masked and carried cudgels. Police were petrol bombed and stoned in the attack late last night, the RUC revealed this afternoon, and two police vehicles were damaged. Condemning the rioters a police spokesman described them as thugs and their actions as nothing better than terrorism.