Drumcree dispute ‘cannot run on forever and ever and day’: Hewitt

The scene at Drumcree in July 2017 as Orange Order brethren were prevented from walking down the Garvaghy Road on their return to Carleton Street Orange Hall, Portadown. 'Photo: Matt Bohill/Pacemaker Press
The scene at Drumcree in July 2017 as Orange Order brethren were prevented from walking down the Garvaghy Road on their return to Carleton Street Orange Hall, Portadown. 'Photo: Matt Bohill/Pacemaker Press

The long-running Drumcree dispute cannot be allowed to run on “forever and ever and a day”, a senior Portadown Orangeman has said.

Worshipful District Master Darryl Hewitt spoke out after the Parades Commission again banned Portadown brethren from parading along the predominantly nationalist Garvaghy Road on the return from their church service tomorrow.

The dispute was a major flashpoint in the 1990s and early 2000s, with the annual event marred by intense violence on a number of occasions.

The Parades Commission has prohibited the Garvaghy Road section of the parade since 1998.

Since then tensions have dissipated, but brethren still stage a protest every week, demanding their right to walk their traditional route.

While he expected the commission’s latest “negative determination”, Mr Hewitt, who has served as Worshipful District Master of Portadown District LOL No. 1 for the past 13 years, said efforts must now be made to resolve the dispute once and for all.

“The whole thing has to be sorted out at some stage. It can’t keep going on forever and ever and a day,” he commented.

“It will have to get sorted out at some stage, but it will take willingness on everybody’s part to meet, to sit down and talk and to get the situation resolved. And we are up for that. We have said it all along, certainly since I became district master, that we are willing to meet the (Garvaghy Road) residents.”

In its latest determination document, the Parades Commission gives a summary of the dispute, including details of efforts made two years ago by the district to involve local church leaders in talks in a bid to move the issue forward.

It says: “The district wanted to talk about a return parade along the Garvaghy Road, including potentially a ‘last parade’ whilst residents stated that the Orange Order should apologise for past events in Portadown.”

That line has left Mr Hewitt asking just what exactly the Order is being expected to apologise for.

“Just what the ‘past events’ are I’m not sure, but this is something new,” he said.

“It doesn’t make it clear and the Parades Commission haven’t intimated to us what they are talking about.

“You need to know what you are being asked to apologise for before you apologise, if you had a mind to do that.

“Obviously we can’t make any decision on that as we don’t know what it’s about.”

Brethren will meet in Carleton Street at 10.15am tomorrow as normal and parade out to Drumcree for their church service.

They will attempt to parade home along their traditional route at around 1pm, but expect to be stopped by police from proceeding towards Garvaghy Road.

Mr Hewitt, a former school teacher who retired last week, added: “I always thought part of the Parades Commission’s remit was to facilitate and organise mediation, which they have singularly failed to do, so this is where we are.

“We are willing to be involved in talks and try to move things forward, but it will take willingness on all sides.”

The News Letter attempted to contact the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition, without success.

• UUP representatives in north and west Belfast have condemned the latest decision by the Parades Commission to ban two Orange lodges from walking along a stretch of the Springfield Road on the Twelfth morning.

West Belfast LOL 739 and Whiterock LOL 974 have been prohibited from marching through the gates at Workman Avenue.

Cllr Robert Foster, a member of West Belfast LOL 739, slammed the commission’s ruling as “a completely unfair decision which is rewarding intransigence and does nothing to promote good relations”.