Policing Drumcree costs more than £23k a year

PACEMAKER BELFAST  07/12/2014
DRUMCREE PROTEST
Portadown Orangemen mark 6,000 days of their protest at Drumcree on sunday

Members of Portadown District have been prevented from parading from Drumcree Church to Carleton Street Orange hall in the town centre since the traditional return procession was banned by the Parades Commisson in July 1998.

Photo Aidan O'Reilly/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 07/12/2014 DRUMCREE PROTEST Portadown Orangemen mark 6,000 days of their protest at Drumcree on sunday Members of Portadown District have been prevented from parading from Drumcree Church to Carleton Street Orange hall in the town centre since the traditional return procession was banned by the Parades Commisson in July 1998. Photo Aidan O'Reilly/Pacemaker Press
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Policing the Drumcree parade dispute is costing the PSNI more than £23,000 a year.

Orangemen still demonstrate every week in Portadown against being barred from marching along the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road.

A small number of lodge members walk from Drumcree church every Sunday to the foot of the hill where they are stopped by police.

A larger demonstration is held each year on the first Sunday before the Twelfth of July, known as Drumcree Sunday.

Three police officers attend for two hours most weeks, while on Drumcree Sunday last year more than 60 were deployed for several hours.

And, according to the Irish News, the cost works out at more than £23,000 in policing hours, based on PSNI figures released through a freedom of information request.

At its peak almost 20 years ago, Drumcree was one of the north’s hotspots for conflict during the marching season as tensions between residents and the Orange Order reached breaking point.

At its height the RUC estimated the annual cost of policing the Drumcree protest at £14m.

The demonstration has been held every week since the 1998, at one point attracting Orangemen from across the north showing their support.

But over the years the numbers have fallen, and the policing operation has been significantly scaled back.

SDLP North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon, the party’s communities spokesperson and a member of the Policing Board, hit out at the cost of the demonstration.

She said the bill, alongside the £21m spent policing the loyalist Twaddell protest camp in north Belfast, was “obscene”.

“It’s the price this executive is willing to continue to pay because the Orange Order refuse to accept the lawful determinations of the Parades Commission when it doesn’t go their way,” she said.

“It is obscene when you think of what this money could have been spent on – employing more nurses, improving mental health services and combating the growing problem of anti-social behaviour to name just a few.”

Alliance MLA and justice spokesperson Trevor Lunn said: “This is public money that should not need to be spent on this and is a drain on our already precarious public finances.

“This money could be better spent on combatting the dissident republican threat and putting more resources into community policing.

“Everyone has the right to express their culture and tradition but with those rights come responsibilities. That responsibility involves moving Northern Ireland forward – the time has long passed for these demonstrations to be brought to an end and the police to be allowed to do their job instead of remaining there.”

However, Portadown District Master Darryl Hewitt said: “The only reason there is a police presence is because of a determination by the Parades Commission.

“So the people who are responsible for the cost are the people who are against the parade.

“If people wouldn’t object to the parade there wouldn’t be a police presence and then we would be home.”