It was a case of ‘Groundhog Day’ as Drumcree Sunday passed off peacefully - a virtually a carbon copy of the previous parades and protests that have marked the event since it turned peaceful at the start of the 21st century.
In contrast to the violence of the late 1990s, the peace and relative quiet of the annual march – and the failure to complete the return march into Portadown – was disturbed only by the accustomed exchange of angry words between the leaders of the 300 marchers and the small group of PSNI officers at the other side of the barrier at the foot of Drumcree Hill.
Deputy Portadown District Master David Jones angrily ripped up the NI Parades Commission determination that the return march was banned, insisting that the civil rights of the Orangemen were once again “violated”.
The main speech was delivered by District Master Darryl Hewitt, who verbally hammered the commission for failing to accommodate face-to-face talks between the District and the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC), “without pre-conditions”. He added. “The commission has neither the will nor the ability to resolve this impasse.”
He also highlighted the “hypocrisy” of the GRRC, “who demanded talks when we were unwilling to sit down with them, but now that we are willing, they are claiming they are not ready – for the past five years – and that the issue is a dead duck.”
“But we are here for the long haul until we have our return march completed,” he said.
However, the mood on the Garvaghy Road was also unchanged. As GRRC chairman Joe Duffy, Breandan Mac Cionnath and MLA John O’Dowd watched the outward parade, they were in no mood for compromise.
Mr Duffy repeated that face-to-face talks simply wouldn’t happen. “The issue is resolved,” he added. “The Parades Commission has determined year after year that the return parade is banned. The Orange Order will have to accept that and return they way they marched to Drumcree. It’s a closed issue – as simple as that. We’re not going to negotiate that away.” Mr O’Dowd backed up Mr Duffy’s view.