As the Orange Order prepares for its annual ‘Drumcree Sunday’ tomorrow, the most senior Portadown Orangeman has said that he is “absolutely disgusted at the lack of movement” from residents or the Parades Commission.
Portadown District Master Darryl Hewitt said that he was dismayed at the reaction to the Orangemen’s offer of talks with Garvaghy Road residents with no preconditions as to what the outcome should be.
In May, the News Letter revealed how Portadown Orangemen had proposed talks with residents to be chaired by a senior Roman Catholic priest, and had gone to meet the Catholic Primate, but residents refused the offer for dialogue.
Mr Hewitt said that among Orangemen who had spoken to him, reaction to his interview with the News Letter had been universally supportive of the initiative to involve the priest in talks.
He said: “I’m absolutely disgusted at the lack of movement after all we’ve tried to do.
“I’m disgusted with the Parades Commission with their attitude towards what I was trying to do – they have given us no assistance whatsoever to try to seek a long-term resolution to the whole issue.”
In May, when the talks offer was revealed, the Parades Commission said that it “continues to keep under review all aspects of the dispute, including maintaining contact with a wide range of stakeholders” and said that it had “consistently encouraged all parties to agree an agenda for dialogue”.
This year will see the main Co Armagh Twelfth demonstration held in Portadown.
Mr Hewitt said that the main parade on Tuesday “will not go near any of the contentious routes”, and that he was looking forward to a successful Twelfth day, with his main concern centring around the weather.
The Orange Field on the Armagh Road was officially opened last night.
Mr Hewitt said that the resolve of Portadown Orangemen to again walk the entire route back from the Drumcree Sunday service had not been weakened “at all”, despite the years of impasse and seemingly little indication of a move which would again see Orangemen parading along the Garvaghy Road.
It is now 19 years since 1997, when the return parade last passed along Garvaghy Road.
How tomorrow will unfold
On Sunday morning, Orangemen will arrive at the landmark Carleton Street Orange Hall.
Around 10.15am, they will assemble outside the hall and parade roughly two miles to Drumcree Parish Church.
Once there, morning worship will take place, as well as an act of remembrance for the Battle of the Somme.
After the service, the Orangemen will parade the short distance towards the Garvaghy Road but will be stopped by a police inspector at the famous bridge at the bottom of Drumcree Hill, which at the height of the dispute in the 1990s and early 2000s was the point at which razor wire and soldiers enforced the Parades Commission’s determination.
Although there is a myth that a letter of protest is handed over by the Orangemen each time, it is in fact a verbal protest which will be made to the police officer.
Then a short religious service will be held and Mr Hewitt will speak.
The Parades Commission has said that the Orangemen must disperse by 2.30pm.