The Portadown Orange Order district master says local residents in Drumcree have spurned their invitation to talks about the controversial parade there.
The Drumcree parade dispute in Portadown, Co Armagh was a major flashpoint in the 1990s and early 2000s, with the annual event marred by intense violence on a number of occasions.
While tensions have dissipated over the last two decades, Portadown Orangemen continue to campaign to be allowed to walk along the predominantly nationalist Garvaghy Road. They hold a small protest every week.
The Parades Commission, the Government-appointed panel that adjudicates on contentious marches, has prohibited the Garvaghy section of the parade since 1998.
In its determination on the 2017 Drumcree parade, the Commission said preventing Orangemen from accessing the Garvaghy Road was “necessary, proportionate and fair”.
Commissioners said there was no consensus between Orangemen and nationalist residents on the format of any potential future talks to mediate a resolution.
In the absence of any locally-agreed accommodation, the Commission said there would be a “high potential for public disorder” if the parade was allowed to proceed on its notified route.
‘No one asked us for an apology’
At the annual main Drumcree parade on Sunday, Darryl Hewitt, the Grand Master of Portadown District LOL (Loyal Orange Order) No 1 said the Portadown District of the Orange Order had “offered talks with a neutral chairman and neutral venue with no preconditions” but that the offer had “not received a favourable response at all from the residents”.
He was referring to comments made in the Parades Commissions determination.
Mr Hewitt said: “They have also in the determination stated that the residents want an apology – what for I’m not sure. Did they contact us to ask if we would issue an apology? No.
“Remember it is Portadown District that has offered talks with a neutral chairman and neutral venue with no preconditions – but this has not received a favourable response at all from the residents.
“Why have the residents been rewarded for this? Where is the threat of violence coming from? It’s certainly not us.
“We were often told ‘no talk, no walk’, what about ‘we’ve tried to talk, its time to walk’”.
‘Pandering to republican agenda’
Mr Hewitt also accused the Commission of “pandering to a hard-line republican agenda”.
He challenged Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire to dismiss the Commission members.
“They must go and the call from this place this afternoon is that the Secretary of State must show some mettle, and once and for all sack the whole lot of them,” he said.
“However, we attempt to complete our parade each and every Sunday – a fact that most people in Northern Ireland are not aware of.
“This has been the case since July 1998 when our late District Master Harold Gracey said that we would remain on protest until our rights have been restored.
“Our resolve has not diminished over the weeks, months and indeed years.
“No-one should be in any doubt, Portadown District are in this for the long haul. We will not be deflected from seeking to achieve our objective.”
A proposal to transfer the responsibility for regulating parades from Westminster to Northern Ireland politicians was agreed in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.
That plan, which would have seen Stormont ministers developing a new way to manage parades and protests, has yet to materialise, amid ongoing political stalemate in Belfast.
DUP MLA for Upper Bann Carla Lockhart was at Drumcree on Sunday.
Here we stand we can do no other!
Drumcree Sunday 2017 – once again Portadown brethren have been denied their right to…
Posted by Carla Condell Lockhart on Sunday, July 9, 2017
Posting video and pictures on her Facebook page, she wrote:
“Here we stand we can do no other!
“Drumcree Sunday 2017 – once again Portadown brethren have been denied their right to return home from their annual church service at Drumcree Parish Church.
“A complete denial of their civil and religious liberties … by an unelected quango called the Parades Commission.
“I want to commend the brethren for their stickability, determination and commitment to the cause!”
Belfast Telegraph Digital