Drumcree: ‘We tried to talk – now it’s time to let us walk’

Drumcree annual church parade -July 9, 2017
Drumcree annual church parade -July 9, 2017

Orangemen banned for 20 years from completing a controversial parade have insisted their determination to overturn the prohibition has not dimmed.

The Drumcree parading dispute in Portadown, Co Armagh was a major flashpoint in the 1990s and early 2000s, with the annual event marred by intense violence on a number of occasions.

Drumcree annual church parade -July 9, 2017

Drumcree annual church parade -July 9, 2017

While tensions have dissipated over the last two decades, Portadown Orangemen continue to campaign to be allowed to walk along the predominantly nationalist Garvaghy Road. They hold a small protest every week.

The Parades Commission has prohibited the Garvaghy section of the parade since 1998.

At the annual main Drumcree parade on Sunday, Darryl Hewitt, the Grand Master of Portadown District LOL No 1, said that efforts to forge a consensus among residents had proved fruitless.

“Remember it is Portadown District that has offered talks with a neutral chairman and neutral venue with no preconditions – but this has not received a favourable response at all from the residents,” he said.

Drumcree annual church parade -July 9, 2017

Drumcree annual church parade -July 9, 2017

“Why have the residents been rewarded for this?”

He added: “We were often told ‘no talk, no walk’; what about ‘we’ve tried to talk, its time to walk’.”

He accused the Commission of “pandering to a hard-line republican agenda”, and challenged Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire to “show some mettle, and once and for all sack the whole lot of them”.

He added that the Order still attempts to “complete our parade each and every Sunday – a fact that most people in Northern Ireland are not aware of”.

He said: “This has been the case since July 1998 when our late District Master Harold Gracey said that we would remain on protest until our rights have been restored.

“Our resolve has not diminished over the weeks, months and indeed years.

“No-one should be in any doubt, Portadown District are in this for the long haul. We will not be deflected from seeking to achieve our objective.”

In its determination on the 2017 Drumcree parade, the Commission said preventing Orangemen from accessing the Garvaghy Road was “necessary, proportionate and fair”.

Commissioners said there was no consensus between Orangemen and nationalist residents on the format of any potential future talks to mediate a resolution.

In the absence of any locally-agreed accommodation, the Commission said there would be a “high potential for public disorder” if the parade was allowed to proceed on its notified route.

A proposal to transfer the responsibility for regulating parades from Westminster to Northern Ireland politicians was agreed in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

That plan, which would have seen Stormont ministers developing a new way to manage parades and protests, has yet to materialise, amid ongoing political stalemate.