DUP Leader Arlene Foster MLA has welcomed the attempts made by Portadown District LOL No. 1 to resolve the ongoing parade dispute on the Garvaghy Road while criticising the role of the Parades Commission in the impasse.
Speaking ahead of Drumcree Sunday this weekend, Mrs Foster said it was “deeply disappointing” that the attempts by Portadown District to hold talks with residents, including offering to take part in negotiations chaired by a senior Catholic priest, had not been acknowledged by the parading body.
Mrs Foster said, “It is nearly 20 years since Portadown District Lodge were last permitted to complete their return parade from Drumcree Parish Church along the Garvaghy Road. The District Lodge has made genuine and repeated efforts to find a resolution and these initiatives are to be warmly welcomed.
“I met with Portadown District LOL 1 recently to discuss the proposals and offers made by the Orange Institution. I would like to pay tribute to the District officers for all the steps they have taken. Recently, some of those efforts have become public in the News Letter and on BBC’s The View programme.
“Those efforts were not only genuine, but were radical in their attempts to secure both dialogue and resolution. It is deeply disappointing that such offers, made without precondition, and with the input from senior representatives of the Catholic Church, have not to date received a positive response.”
Mrs Foster called for a positive acknowledgement from the Parades Commission for the efforts made by Portadown District.
“For many years the Parades Commission were at pains to stress the importance of dialogue in achieving a local resolution. On the Garvaghy Road all attempts to engage in dialogue have been made by the Orange Institution, but have been rebuffed. Having also met with the Parades Commission chair on this issue I believe the Commission should acknowledge the efforts made by Portadown District and reward their genuine attempts to seek resolution.
“Whilst the Parades Commission should demonstrate that good faith will be rewarded, ultimately the Commission will not be part of the long-term solution to parading in Northern Ireland. Within the unionist community there is an increasingly ingrained view that the Parades Commission is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
“If we are truly to move forward in Northern Ireland, then we require a new start to the decision framework governing parading. It is also important that we establish a principle that rewards those who wish to engage positively and who genuinely seek resolution to the problems we face.
“Portadown District have clearly shown their willingness to explore every possible avenue. It defies natural justice that such efforts have been rejected so often on the Garvaghy Road.”