Talks on Drumcree branded ‘PR stunt’

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

It’s as-you-were with the Drumcree march dispute as Portadown Orangemen will try – and fail - on Sunday to make the return parade from the church service via the Garvaghy Road.

As has been the case since the last return parade in 1998 through the disputed route, the NI Parades Commission has refused the Portadown District No 1 their request to “be granted our civil rights to march home via the traditional route – nor are they making any effort to facilitate talks.”

After the initial violence abated in the late 1990s, followed by the Orange Order’s refusal to talk, the current pattern was set in 2008 when the District agreed on talks, but the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) changed their stated policy and refused to get around the table.

The result since has been stalemate. The Parades Commission has banned every request for a parade, with the residents claiming the issue is settled and the Orangemen protesting every Sunday and calling for face-to-face talks “with everything on the table”.

District Master Darryl Hewitt said, “The Commission is sitting on its hands, showing no interest in our opinions, coming out in favour of the residents. We have tried everything to try and get talks going with the residents – innumerable meetings with the commission, eliciting the help of RC clergy and meeting politicians of every persuasion. But the Commission isn’t interested. We will keep going until talks take place. We have presented every possible option to the Commission, but they are simply not doing their job. They don’t seem interested in a solution, and the GRRC is getting away with refusing talks.”

Breandan MacCionnaith of the Garvaghy Residents Association described calls by the Orange Order for talks as a ‘PR stunt’. He said there would be no negotiations ‘on the basis of what the Orange Order are talking about’. He added that he expected it to be a peaceful Sunday with no more than 200 Orangemen at Drumcree.

The Commission said: “The divisive legacy of the Drumcree parading dispute is well understood by everyone involved. Information provided, including an independent report in 2014, has highlighted the extent of these divisions and found that the dispute is for many communities linked to a number of traumatic events during the Troubles. We are aware that attempts at engagement have been advanced by the organiser involving clergy from across the community. To date this engagement has not produced any significant developments nor has an agenda for any dialogue been agreed.”