FULL SPEECH BY DARRYL HEWITT, PORTADOWN DISTRICT MASTER AT DRUMCREE
ON behalf of Portadown District LOL No 1, I would like to thank each and every one of you for your attendance at our annual Church service and parade to Drumcree Parish Church.
Once again we find ourselves standing in front of this barrier preventing us from completing our traditional route from Drumcree Parish Church back to our starting point in Carleton Street. As you are all aware this part of our parade and Church service has not been completed since July 1998. However, I must inform you that it is not without the District Officers of this fine District putting in a lot of effort and time seeking a resolution to the impasse.
We will not be walking away from this place and I can assure you that we will continue to work hard to achieve what we desire. On a personal note, may I place on record my best thanks to the District Officers for their support and attendance at various meetings throughout the year.
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 Wor Bro Harold Gracey said that we would remain on protest until our rights have been restored. Our resolve has not diminished over the weeks and months and no one should be in any doubt, Portadown District is in this for the long haul – we will not be deflected from seeking to achieve our objective.
Once again this year the Parades Commission has not been able to move the situation forward at all. Some people may argue that they do not have the will to move it forward – however, I would respectfully suggest that not only do they not have the will, they do not have the ability to start to seek a resolution to this impasse.
It is over five years since Portadown District stated that it was willing to meet the GRRC with no preconditions. Has the Parades Commission been able to get the two sides around a table? Of course not, because the GRRC continually prevaricate – ‘we are not yet ready to enter dialogue’ is their usual response or ‘it’s a dead duck issue’.
Does this gathering here today suggest to you that we believe the issue is dead? Of course it is not dead. In determination after determination the Parades Commission state that dialogue is the only way forward. We hear the great and the good saying that the Orange should sit down with residents. That is what we have been trying to do for the past number of years.
Our frustration is all the more significant given the recent developments in north Belfast where our fellow brethren have indicated their willingness to enter face-to-face talks with nationalist residents in Ardoyne. It is a bold and pro-active move, and one that has not gone unnoticed here in Co Armagh. We are ready to engage in similar ‘quiet conversations’, but regrettably others continue to be found wanting.
The GRRC called for years for Portadown District to meet with them ‘No Talk, No Walk’ was their infamous sound bite but who is not talking now? What have the Parades Commission done about this? Have they taken any steps to encourage the GRRC to get around a table? Have they suggested that the GRRC sound bite should now be ‘No Talk, They Walk’? Of course not – the Parades Commission is weak and part of the problem. I would suggest to the Secretary of State that the members of the Commission should start to lift their pension by her telling them that they are not ‘fit for purpose’.
We are continually being told about this notion of ‘shared space’. When we tested the notion of shared space in Portadown I’m afraid the GRRC and residents groups came up short of the mark.
As you all know we booked the People’s Park for a short religious service prior to our mini-Twelfth parade. We publicly stated that there would be no regalia worn to or from the park and there would be no parade until the start of the mini-Twelfth. What was the reaction? The GRRC and seven residents groups all felt it necessary to object to a short religious service in the park, so much so that they even went as far as seeking a Judicial Review – over a 30 minute religious service.
It seems to me that shared space, like so much else in this country, is only on the terms of a nationalist agenda, it is not true shared space. We are ratepayers and taxpayers and the park belongs to everyone in Portadown not just one section of the town. By and large anyone from our tradition who is under the age of 50, probably has never set foot in the People’s Park.
How our councillors, and in particular a couple of so-called Unionist elected representatives, believe that spending in excess of £5m will somehow turn the Park into shared space beggars belief. The actions of residents, as well as SDLP and Sinn Fein would suggest to the unionist family that shared space is only a one way street.
We must never forget those people who keep the protest going on the Hill throughout the year. However, our best thanks must go to Gillian Bleakley for keeping the presence on the Hill going. There have been incidents on the Hill over the past years, but the resolve of those who maintain the protest has not diminished. To those who faithfully attend the Hill, my grateful thanks. To those who have not been here for a while, why not make a point and come out again and renew old friendships. Make sure that before you leave today you visit the hillside café and avail of the refreshments on offer.
According to the determination we are to leave this place by 2.30pm today. However, on behalf of myself and the District Officers, may I request that you remain with us here as we do not intend leaving by the time an unelected quango has told us to leave by.
Here We Stand, We Can Do No Other.