Groundhog Day – aka Drumcree Sunday – is 10 days away, and it’s the same scenario of no-talk-no-walk.
The Orangemen will once again be left to reflect on The Hill, with those in power making no meaningful efforts to facilitate face-to-face talks. The Drumcree issue is nothing like as controversial as it once was. But it is a block – one of a number – preventing meaningful community relations in Portadown.
The initial violence made it impossible for any sort of progress. And when peace broke out at the turn of the millennium, the Orange side refused direct talks with the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC). They were heavily criticised by the Parades Commission, with the GRRC claiming that the Portadown Orange District was treating them like second class citizens.
But that has all been stood on its head. The GRRC is resolutely refusing talks, and the commission is sitting on its hands, almost totally inactive. They contend that both sides must show willingness to come to the table. And the fact that Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has no power whatsoever to intervene, shows that the GRRC has been dealt the winning hand.
The officers of the Portadown District – along with politicians – met this week with the commission and with Ms Villiers. But they might as well have stayed at home.
District Master Darryl Hewitt and his officers have tried every trick in the book. They have met politicians and clergy of every hue in their bid for unconditional face-to-face talks. They have tried to use the situation of the revamped People’s Park, and its much-vaunted “shared space”, to suggest better community relations. And every Sunday for 17 years, they have their protest at the Drumcree barrier, demanding that they complete their 1998 return march via the Garvaghy Road. But all to no avail.
The GRRC, who hold all the aces, aren’t interested. They insist that the issue is resolved. “It’s a dead duck – time move on” is the attitude, propagated by chairman Joe Duffy.
It has been frustrating from the start. The original parades commission chairman, the distinguished Sir Alistair Graham, tried and failed. South African lawyer and international mediator Brian Currin came with great hopes and intellectual theories, but soon quit in frustration because the Orange side withdrew from his indirect talks (2001).
David Trimble and Ian Paisley (they of the infamous ‘victory dance’ in Carleton Street) thought they had made a breakthrough, but it was a pyrrhic victory.
The then Prime Minister Tony Blair had a futile attempt. In his autobiography, he admitted he could get nowhere with Breandan Mac Cionnaith, claiming the GRRC spokesman had an answer ready for the questions, even before they were asked.
There is little chance of a resolution, at least in the short term, unless some quiet autumn Sunday, when a few Orangemen turn out for their protest, they are quietly let down the Garvaghy Road for that “final parade” which had recently entered the equation.
But it’s a vain hope...