Attackers waylaid and burned a passenger train Tuesday in a third day of violence over Protestant marches in Northern Ireland. Protestants determined to keep marching said they see no point in talking to Catholics determined to stop them.
Sparked by Protestants’ annual march through Catholic areas of the town of Portadown last weekend, the conflict showed no sign of letting up in advance of Saturday’s big march through Londonderry.
“We feel they don’t wish to reach an agreement,” declared Billy More, general secretary of the Apprentice Boys, a Protestant fraternal organization.
In Newry, 30 miles south of Belfast, masked men claiming to be Irish Republican Army members boarded a Dublin-to-Belfast train, ordered passengers out and set it afire.
“It was very frightening - people didn’t know what they were going to do,” said passenger Kay Sheehey, a producer for RTE, the Irish broadcasting system.
“They ran on to the train and then they just started to order people off and broke a few windows. Some of them had guns,” she said.
Earlier Tuesday, an attacker shot and wounded a policeman on Garvaghy Road, the main thoroughfare through the Catholic enclave in the predominantly Protestant town of Portadown, about 30 miles southwest of Belfast.
Violence erupted there Sunday when police cleared the road of Catholic protesters who had hoped to block a march by the Orange Order, Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant organization.
The same march set off widespread rioting a year ago - first by Protestants when police blocked the route, then by Catholics when police finally forced the march through.
The next big tests - during what is known in the province as “marching season” - come with marches next weekend in Belfast and Londonderry, 75 miles to the northwest. Protestants say the marches mark key historical events; critics say they accentuate Catholics’ minority status.
In Londonderry, Mayor Martin Bradley invited representatives of business, political parties, churches and residents’ associations to meet Thursday to seek accord on Saturday’s march.
The Bogside Residents Group - representing Catholics - accepted the mayor’s invitation. But the local grand master of the Orange Order, Alan Lindsay, declined to comment on the mediation offer.
In Belfast on Tuesday, there were reports of scattered rioting, and outbound lanes of a freeway were closed after a car was hijacked and abandoned.
Catholic residents from the Ormeau Road in Belfast, who are trying to block another Orange march on Saturday, planned to meet today with Irish Foreign Minister Ray Burke.
Burke talked Tuesday with Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam, the British Cabinet member responsible for the province, and stressed his government’s unhappiness about the weekend decision to permit the march.