A meeting at Stormont on Monday between Portadown Orange chiefs and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has failed to make any inroads into the Drumcree parade dispute.
With ‘Drumcree Sunday’ due in 10 days, Ms Villiers reiterated her view that resolution over the return parade via the Garvaghy Road was only possible through two-way dialogue. And the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) have made it clear that any chances of talks are “very slim”.
Portadown District Master Darryl Hewitt, and Deputy District Master, Nigel Lawson were accompanied by MPs David Simpson and Tom Elliott, and by Sydney Anderson MLA.
Mr Hewitt said, “It seems that the GRRC have more power than the Secretary of State. Of course, the Parades Commission dealt them all the ace cards. They can sit on their hands simply by refusing to talk, and it seems that the Parades Commission is also sitting on its hands.
“The commission has done absolutely nothing to facilitate the talks for which we have called since 2006. We met them last week and they parroted out the same no-talk-no-walk policy.”
He added that, with the £6m refurbishment of the People’s Park almost finished – the projected date is August this year – a resolution on the parade would help foster better community relations. “The Protestant community does not feel welcome in the park,” he went on.
GRRC spokesman Breandan Mac Cionnaith said, “The chances of talks are slim, given the District’s record since the return parade was banned in 1998.
“It’s wrong to say that Protestants are not welcome in the park. Football teams from the Protestant communities play virtually every Saturday during the season. We are confident that the park will sort itself out into a shared, neutral space and will be used by all communities.”
But Mr Hewitt referred to a planned rally in the park prior to the Mini Twelfth a few years ago when legal action was being organised to stop it – “Hardly a move towards a shared space,” he added.