Orangemen 'sceptical' over parading report

PORTADOWN Orangemen are sceptical of the Northern Ireland Assembly's new parades report, after some of its contents were leaked this week.

Angry that nothing will be done before Drumcree Sunday next July, they vowed they would continue their week-by-week protest at the foot of Drumcree Hill "until the parade back to Portadown is compete, whoever is in charge".

The Assembly report was completed a week ago after the behind-closed-doors negotiations between three DUP and three Sinn Fein Assembly members - Stephen Moutray (Upper Bann), Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley), Nelson McCausland (Northern Belfast) - all DUP - Gerry Kelly (North Belfast), John O'Dowd (Upper Bann) and Michelle Gildernew (Fermanagh-South Tyrone) - all SF.

As expected, the Parades Commission is being phased out at the end of the year, but a Portadown Orange source said, "That means they will continue to sit on their hands until they are finally wound up and will continue to do precisely nothing to facilitate talks between the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition and the Portadown District.


"They had the gall to say last week that neither side in the Drumcree dispute is refusing face-to-face talks, even though we have been calling for such talks - without preconditions and predeterminations - for the past three years.

"The GRRC has been studiously avoiding talks, and the commission statement shows that they are either totally unaware of what's going on, or they, too, are avoiding a settlement."

Portadown had a representative at the Grand Lodge of Ireland meeting in County Tyrone on Saturday when the meeting gave a qualified welcome to the parading proposals under the Hillsborough policing and justice deal.

However, a proposal by the Rev Martin Smyth that no further comment should be made by the Order until the legislation was drafted later in the year met with overwhelming support.

That support, though, is tempered in Portadown where Orangemen - banned from the Garvaghy Road since 1998 - believe theirs is a special case, given that the GRRC is resolutely refusing to meet them "and the Parades Commission is doing nothing".

And while all other banned parades - like Dunloy, North Belfast and Ormeau Road are one-day protests in the marching season, the Portadown District applies every week for the Garvaghy Road route and holds a protest every Sunday.

And local Orangemen are not convinced that the new arrangement will make much difference. It is thought that the commission will be replaced by a cross-party tribunal, with an independent legal member holding sway in the event of a seemingly-insoluable dispute, and that meetings between the various factions - the would-be marchers and residents - will be key.

But with the GRRC being outside the influence of any political group, Drumcree will remain the most difficult to solve.

"We don't have much confidence in the way the new order is shaping," said a Portadown source. "In the meantime, we will keep up the pressure with the Parades Commission to actually do something. They may as well be disbanded now for all the effect they have."