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3 Children Die in N. Ireland Fire

July 12, 1998

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Three Catholic children died in an arson attack early Sunday, and Protestant protesters clashed in hand-to-hand scuffles with police blocking their march down a predominantly Catholic road.

Neighbors reported hearing a loud bang just before a house in Ballymoney erupted in flames, killing brothers Richard, Mark and Jason Quinn, who ranged in age from 7 to 10. The boys’ mother and her Protestant boyfriend managed to escape, police said.

Ballmoney, about 40 miles northwest of Belfast, is predominantly Protestant. It is not uncommon for mixed-religion couples to be targeted for attacks throughout Northern Ireland.

Seamus Mallon, the Catholic deputy leader of the new Belfast Assembly, said the boys had been ``sacrificed for the so-called principles of the people of the north of Ireland, who have been unable to resolve what is basically a parochial dispute″ over the Protestant march.

``What price your principles now?″ Mallon asked on BBC-TV. ``Does it take one child, two children, three children?″

Ronnie Flanagan, head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, said he considered the boys’ deaths a turning point in the increasingly violent stalemate over the Orange Order’s blocked attempts to march down the predominantly Catholic Garvaghy Road in Portadown.

``These are the real victims of our troubles, murdered while they slept in their beds,″ Flanagan said. ``For me, this changes everything. There are things clearly much, much more important than marches or opposing marches.″

``We owe these youngsters more,″ he said. ``We owe all our youngsters more.″

Authorities urged Catholics not to retaliate.

``All elements must ask themselves what they can do to defuse the situation,″ said David Trimble, leader of Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant party and the first minister of the Belfast Assembly.

Members of the Orange Order _ stymied since July 5 from parading down Garvaghy Road from their rural Drumcree church _ started negotiating through intermediaries Saturday with the road’s Catholic residents.

But when the talks adjourned for the day without results, the Orangemen announced a second application had been submitted to a government-appointed parades commission requesting an identical route _ with a departure time of 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

The commission announced Sunday morning that the second application also had been denied.

Thousands of Orangemen have remained encamped outside the steel and barbed-wire barricades in Portadown, about 25 miles southwest of Belfast, staging increasingly bold attacks on police once night falls.

Overnight Sunday, riot police fought hand-to-hand with hooded demonstrators who had ripped away parts of the barricade.

Protesters launched fireworks directly at the security forces and threw bricks and stones. The police answered with plastic bullets, and arrested at least two people.

Twenty protesters were injured by a barrage of plastic bullets overnight Saturday, including a 26-year-old man who remained hospitalized in critical condition and a 21-year-old female college student who lost an eye.

Orange Order spokesman David Jones said late Saturday that any further violence would not be his group’s fault if the second application was denied.

``If this application is turned down, then the parades commission must take full responsibility for any violence at Drumcree,″ he said.

It was not clear when the indirect talks between the Orangemen and Catholic residents would resume, but authorities said it would be after Sunday.

Police already had feared tensions would peak this weekend with the 12th of July holiday, the annual Protestant celebration of the defeat of Catholic King James II by King William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The streets of normally bustling Belfast began emptying early Saturday afternoon in anticipation of more trouble, and dozens of holiday bonfires and fireworks lit the sky as night settled in.

On the streets of one Protestant enclave, children toasted marshmallows over the flames; on the streets of another, they watched gleefully as the flames from a hijacked car, torched by a gasoline bomb, leaped higher and higher.

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