Order’s annual Drumcree protest

Orangemen protest at Drumcree church last July, after a parade was barred from proceeding down the Garvaghy Road
Orangemen protest at Drumcree church last July, after a parade was barred from proceeding down the Garvaghy Road

Orangemen will attempt to complete the return leg of their parade home from Drumcree tomorrow – as they have done each year on this weekend since 1998.

Tensions over the parade along the Garvaghy Road in Portadown threatened to bring anarchy across Northern Ireland in the late 1990s.

Yesterday Portadown District Master Darryl Hewitt promised a peaceful but resolute protest.

“The Parades Commission determination is that we are not allowed to walk our return route – as normal that does not surprise me,” he said.

“We will meet at 10.15am at Carleton Street and then walk to our service out the Dungannon Road to Drumcree church as normal. Then we will attempt to come back via the Garvaghy Road afterwards.”

He agrees that the security at the annual police barrier nowadays is very light. The last year Orangemen walked along the Garvaghy Road was in 1997 but he insists the return leg is still important.

“Portadown District want our civil and religious liberties restored,” he said.

Asked what difference it would make to abandon the protest, he replied: “What does it affect anyone else’s life if the parade is allowed to go through?”

The Garvaghy Road is a main arterial route, and although residents say it is now mainly nationalist, he replies that there are only 14 houses with addresses on it, the remainder being located off the main thoroughfare.

“We have said since 2007 we are ready for talks with no preconditions except an independent chair. I have relayed this to the Parades Commission and Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) repeatedly since then but this has never been taken up.

“Republicans say this issue can only be resolved through dialogue but GRRC are not willing to enter talks.”

Breandan MacCionnaith of the GRRC said the order’s offer of dialogue was based on their application to walk to Drumcree Parish Church along the original route of Obins Street and back by Garvaghy Road, both of which have been barred by the commission.

Asked what GRRC’s conditions for talks were, he replied: “I am not going to negotiate with you.”

The only condition, he said, is that the order drop their Obins Street-Garvaghy Road route as the basis for talks.

A Parades Commission spokeswoman said it stated in its 2014 determination that it has “recently initiated an information gathering exercise in Portadown”.