Saturday was day 6,000 of the Drumcree protest. And perhaps it’s significant that it all began in 1998, the same year that the Good Friday Agreement was hatched.
Both issues are stuck in something of a rut. The inept politicians of Stormont (they who have failed to manage budgets, health, education, social development… as many departments as you’d find in a John Lewis store) at least have the advantage of high-powered face-to-face talks.
Of course, their cause is much, much higher profile than a body of men wanting to walk down a half-mile road. Luminaries like David Cameron and Enda Kenny are standing by to add their wisdom as the main parties get down to ‘crisis’ talks. Yet again.
That’s how it is in Northern Ireland where mutual trust is minimal and where the talent to listen to – and ingest – other people’s opinions is too rare a commodity. Especially in the run-in to a general election where the cream of their politicians are scrapping to return to Westminster, even though many who gain seats in the Commons don’t even occupy them.
So, if those at the top of the political pyramid in Northern Ireland can agree on precious little, what hope for a town with the divisive ethos of Portadown? At least the politicians can agree on talks – albeit without much chance of success – but here the protagonists of Drumcree have still to get around the same table.
It was the fault of the Orange side at the start, while the GRRC adopted the manta – ‘No talk, no walk’. But as soon as the Portadown No 1 District agreed to talk, the residents group disappeared like a whiff of smoke into a whirlwind.
So there it stands, although the Orangemen realise that one trip down the Garvaghy Road will be their last. And surely that’s worth listening to, from the GRRC viewpoint. True, the Drumcree protest hasn’t cut much ice over the past few years, with the Sunday 1pm walk down The Hill witnessed by a few police officers, a handful of faithful followers, and the occasional bemused resident out walking the dog.
The district has been totally responsible in recent years, meeting everyone from Gerry Adams to the members of the NI Parades Commission - although the commission has been of little help.
The residents’ coalition has the ball at its toe, as has been the case since 1998. So perhaps it’s time to show a bit of magnanimity, let the parade have its final fling and wave goodbye as it passes round the bend into Victoria Terrace and ‘home’ to Carleton Street. Or simply stay indoors and pull down the blinds.
Such a move would create the community spirit required in Portadown to help make the public park at Garvaghy Road the shared space to which the politicians in the fading Craigavon Borough Council pay lip service. Everyone in Portadown would benefit. And it’s high time that all politicians in the park steering committee (who have been deafening with their silence on the Drumcree issue) could start forcing the pace over the issue.
Or is it all simply a pipe dream?