Portadown Orangemen believe that the Drumcree protest gathered fresh impetus when Ireland’s Grand Orange Lodge secretary Drew Nelson joined Sunday’s parade and protest, along with around 300 marchers and two bands.
There has been a feeling that protests in Belfast had dominated the headlines, while others like Drumcree had remained on the back burner, although this had not been articulated during the every-Sunday protests that have gone generally unreported.
Portadown District Master Darryl Hewitt would only say, “With the new graduated response policy, we would expect to be given the same prominence as all other protests throughout Northern Ireland – and this was reflected by Mr Nelson’s speech.”
Mr Nelson said. “In the current situation where the press and media focus is on events in north Belfast, we need to remind the public there are many areas across Northern Ireland where nationalist and republican intolerance is restricting our legitimate religious and cultural expression.
“Not just here at Drumcree, but also in Dunloy, Rasharkin, Dungiven, Strabane and more recently nearby in the Victoria Terrace area of Portadown. It is therefore abundantly clear that the nationalist and republican political leaderships merely pay lip service to the concept of shared space and a shared society.
“This year’s misguided decisions by the parades commission have brought into sharp focus their unwillingness to stand up to persistent threats of physical force protest, or indeed violence, by nationalists and republicans opposed to our parades.”
Mr Nelson’s presence and speech meant that the Drumcree “script” – much the same for the past 10 years – was altered, although it had the usual elements of the outwards parade, through the town, Northway, Corcrain, Dungannon Road – past St John’s Roman Catholic Church – and the Rector’s Turns to Drumcree Parish Church.
And afterwards, there was the usual angry protest and religious service at police lines, after which Mr Hewitt and Mr Nelsons made their speeches.
After condemning the ‘on-the-runs, get out of jail free’ system, Mr Hewitt flayed the new Parades Commission, “which is even more stupid and inept than the last one, which beggars belief”.
He added, “I am also appalled at the Parades Commission U-turn regarding the recent dedication of Paramount arch by the Parkmount arch committee (when the short march was denied the lodge) - let me state quite categorically, Portadown District does not own, or control any arch.
“However we support 100 per cent the right of the community that owns the arch to have a re-dedication. The re-dedication was in honour of the memory of late Bro Ivan Forbes, who had, for many years, been a tower of strength in any matter to do with the arch.
“The U-turn was unbelievable and the way the Parades Commission treated public representatives, including the MP for the area, was quite disgusting. They then would not put anyone up for interview to justify the U-turn and subsequent non-review of the review. Things must be bad when even the Rev Brian Kennaway, not one known for his support of a unionist cause in Portadown, criticised the commission over this.”
Mr Hewitt ended by saying that the unity between the unionist parties was a welcome move – “it must be maintained and built upon. That is what the unionist people want. Remember that it states on most of our arches – United We Stand, Divided We Fall”.
The event ended with a token act of defiance, with the Orangemen staying in the area beyond the 2.30pm deadline imposed by the Parades Commission.