THE Portadown Orange District’s suggestion that the County Armagh Twelfth demonstration be held in the town’s revamped People’s Park has met with different reactions.
They range from “hypocritical” from the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) - with whom the Order is in dispute over the Drumcree march - to “eminently reasonable” from the borough council’s DUP grouping.
Portadown District Orange Master Darryl Hewitt claimed last week that the park would be an ideal venue for the demonstration, due to be held in Portadown in 2016, a year after the work is due to be completed. The European Union’s Peace III programme is giving £6.4m to the £7.1m million project, with the proviso that it becomes a shared space.
The work will mean a state-of-the-art play area, upgrading of football pitches, multi-use games areas, a man-made lake, a new pavilion, and amphitheatre and walkways - “a perfect showpiece for the town,” said Mr Hewitt.
But the GRRC is far from happy. They claimed, “The Orange Order’s record in Portadown demonstrates a total lack of commitment to creating ‘shared space.
“In recent years, several million pounds were invested in Portadown town centre with the purpose of creating a space. The Orange Order’s contribution is to annually decorate the town centre with flags and bunting thereby ensuring that town centre remains a cold house for nationalists. Likewise, the erection of a political monument in June of this year (to mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant) at a very prominent and highly visible location in the town centre, organised jointly by the Orange Order and the Black Institution.”
The council’s DUP grouping supports the move. Group leader Stephen Moutray said, “The demonstration move is a matter for the Orange Institution. But it would be an eminently reasonable request, which I would be very happy to support and ought to enjoy cross party backing. The park has not been a welcoming place for members of the local Protestant unionist community for many years.”
Craigavon Deputy Mayor Arnold Hatch (UUP) said that a lot of issues had to be considered in relation to the main county demonstration being held in the park, “not least the question of logistics”.
“One wonders whether the park would be big enough to accommodate 40,000 people,” he said. “There would also be the problem of getting to and from it, and perhaps the whole day would be overshadowed with all these consideration.”
SDLP Assembly member Dolores Kelly (SDLP) felt that the statement from the Portadown Orange District was “foolhardy”. She added, “The District doesn’t seem to have learned much from the Drumcree dispute, and I wonder whether the ratepayers of Portadown - who own the park - see this as a way to resolve Portadown’s problems. I don’t think that such a demonstration in the park would cement community relations.”
Sinn Fein’s Gemma McKenna said, “There is a major difference in having a shared space and abusing a space under the pretence of sharing. The park as a shared space has to be free from events that are not open to participation by all members of our community. The suggestion by the Orange Brethren is equivalent to republicans organising a 1916 Commemoration in Lurgan Park in front of Brownlow House the world headquarters of the Black Preceptory.”