A senior Orangeman has said that the days of ‘knee-jerk’ responses to the Parades Commission are over, and that pressure to change how marches are regulated will continue long after the Twelfth.
Speaking yesterday after the Order’s Portadown lodges were once again blocked from their return route at Drumcree, Grand Secretary Drew Nelson was bitterly critical of the “inept” commission, and said the ramifications from its decision-making will be felt for many months yet.
It comes in the wake of its decision to again refuse the return of three Ligoniel lodges past the Ardoyne shops on the Twelfth, something which sparked a display of unity from across the unionist political spectrum.
Asked what kind of a summer the Province is in for, Mr Nelson said: “What I think is different about this year is that in the past there’s been a knee-jerk reaction from the Orange Institution and our supporters when he had an adverse decision.
“This year I think there is much more of a determined frame of mind within the institution that, rather than have a knee-jerk reaction and everything over by the Twelfth, that this year our campaign will continue after the Twelfth and perhaps for many months to come.”
He said, ultimately, the aim is to “try to bring the Secretary of State – who has the ultimate political responsibility here – to the realisation that the framework for regulating parades in Northern Ireland is not working”.
Addressing a crowd at a series of police barriers on the quiet rural road leading from Drumcree church, he said the Grand Lodge will be holding an “emergency meeting” later in the week.
Repeating a call made by the Order and unionist politicians in recent days, he said that any protests or demonstrations must be peaceful, adding: “Our traditions are dear to us and are only undermined by violence”.
Twenty-eight different lodges from the Portadown area took part in yesterday’s demonstration at Drumcree, accompanied by two accordion bands.
They were undertaking a route of about three miles, but the police lines blocked them at roughly the two-mile mark.
District Master Darryl Hewitt said that there had been a good amount of support along the route, particularly in the Edgarstown area, and it had been peaceful throughout.
He said: “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, Worshipful Brother Harold Gracey, said that we would remain on protest until our rights have been restored.”
He added they are in for the “long haul” until they achieve their objective.