The Portadown Orange District has sent in a request to meet United States Diplomat Dr Richard Haass over the Drumcree parade deadlock when he returns to Northern Ireland next month.
With the prospect of Drumcree talks in limbo for 15 years – since the parade was banned from returning via the Garvaghy Road in 1998 – the Portadown officers want Dr Haass to cast the net outside Belfast and the contentious Ardoyne situation.
And the District is receiving support from the Grand Lodge of Ireland, with Deputy Grand Master of Ireland Rev Alastair Smith impressing on Dr Haass last week that Ardoyne is not the only disputed parade in Northern Ireland.
Portadown District Master Darryl confirmed that a request had been made recently for the meeting and there would be a follow-up invitation for a get-together when Dr Haass returns next month.
Dr Haass and Harvard University Professor Maghan O’Sullivan were involved in 30 meetings last week – ranging from politicians to community leaders and the Orange Order – with emphasis on forging agreement on the vexed issues of marches, flags and the past.
They have suggested what is regarded as an unrealistic deadline of December 31, but it is generally agreed that it could be open-ended if there are signs of progress.
Mr Hewitt said, “Drumcree is perhaps the original parade where no agreement has been reached and we repeat that any talks will be open-minded and without pre-conditions. The world doesn’t end in Belfast and we feel that a meeting with Dr Haass would be beneficial. We hope the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) – which has been intransigent – will also speak to Dr Haas, leading to some sort of progress.”
Breandan Mac Coinnaith of the GRRC said they would be making a submission to meet Mr Haass when he returns in October.
Meanwhile, Alderman Arnold Hatch was part of a delegation which met Dr Haass and Professor O’Sullivan from the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) – to which is due to be elected president today (Friday).
He said, “There is a fear that the parading issue will concentrate on Belfast, and I fully support the Portadown District move to meet Dr Haass. Other parts of Northern Ireland, especially Drumcree, most also be put in the mix. There needs to be a change that would include sanctions aimed at groups who refuse to engage in talks aimed at sorting out contentious marches. The present law rewards those who threaten violence.”