Orangemen defiant after latest protest

Portadown district on parade following the annual Drumcree Church service
Portadown district on parade following the annual Drumcree Church service

Drumcree Sunday followed in the footsteps of all the others since the turn of the millennium. It was a quiet, peaceful day, a protest at the bottom of The Hill at police lines, and people watched as the parade passed St John’s RC Church.

Sunday marked 20 years since the original protest by residents to the parade returning to Carleton Street via the Garvaghy Road – they failed to stop it for three years, but by 1998, the route was banned.

Violence turned to peace by 1999, and since then, the search for an agreed solution has proven elusive. Sunday’s failed attempt by the Orange Order for the homeward parade followed the same template since the start of the 21st century.

Around 300 Orangemen – with two bands – left Carleton Street at 10.15am, and completed the outwards match via the town centre, Northway, Corcrain, the Dungannon Road and the Rector’s Turns to the Church of the Ascension for the service.

Afterwards, the Orange walk from the church to police lines also mirrored the same frustration of the past 17 years. District Officers challenged the PSNI to allow the return march, but to no avail. This was followed by an open-air religious service and the accustomed hard-hitting speeches.

Portadown District Master said that they had no intention of giving up their campaign. “Our resolve has not diminished over the weeks, months and indeed years – no-one should be in any doubt that Portadown District are in this for the long haul. We will not be deflected from seeking to achieve our objective.”

He added that his efforts had included a letter in May to the Roman Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin, with just a short note of acknowledgement. He had also attempted to set up talks with the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition to no avail – “against the mantra of Gerry Kelly who claims the Orange order does not engage in dialogue”.

He also slammed Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and the NI Parades for their perceived inaction in trying to accommodate talks. “These people back the GRRC every week, so why should they get round a table?”

Drew Nelson, the Orange Grand Secretary of Ireland was the special guest, and he praised the Portadown Orangemen for their “dignified protest which remains the best means of opposing these decisions by the Parades Commission”.

He also commended them for recently passing the 6,000th day mark of their protest, accused nationalists of “holding a veto over progress”, and appealed to the Secretary of State to introduce new parading legislation, with the present framework “clearly biased in favour of those who oppose parades”.

Sunday’s protest – as in recent years – broke the 2.30pm deadline for Orangemen vacating Drumcree and its environs. But there is unlikely to be any action taken by the authorities, after Mr Hewitt, in his speech, called on the Brethren and supports to defy the order.

There are no signs that the GRRC will agree to talk. Their attitude is that the issue has been solved with the ban on the return parade, and it’s time to move on.