Orange leader: Violence undermines fight against Parades Commission

Brethren from the Portadown district are blocked after their parade from Drumcree Parish Church on Sunday
Brethren from the Portadown district are blocked after their parade from Drumcree Parish Church on Sunday

Almost 2,000 Orange parades have been restricted in the last 11 years, brethren were told at Drumcree on Sunday as they were again blocked from completing their return journey.

The figure was revealed by Grand Secretary Drew Nelson, who told assembled Orangemen the public needed reminded that “there are many areas across Northern Ireland where nationalist and republican intolerance – aided and abetted by a weak Parades Commission – is restricting our legitimate religious and cultural expression”.

Warning that the Institution and bands community would face “much scrutiny” over the coming days, he said that any actions over the Twelfth “must be both lawful and passive”.

“Our traditions are dear to us and are only undermined by violence,” he said.

Praising Portadown District for maintaining a peaceful protest at Drumcree for over 6,000 days, the grand secretary said: “Peaceful and dignified protest remains our best means of opposition to the illogical decisions of the Parades Commission.

“Your actions continue to expose the flawed nature of a failed and unsustainable process.”

Under an overcast sky Orangemen from Portadown District LOL No 1 and others walked past Drumcree Parish Church the short distance down to the road block where a protest letter is handed to the police.

Drumcree Orangemen have been stopped from completing their traditional route along the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road, every year since 1998.

At the roadblock Orangemen heard a call for the Secretary of State to “act decisively” and introduce new parading legislation.

Around 3,000 loyal order parades are held throughout the Province each year.

Mr Nelson said: “Many believe that only a small number of parades are restricted by the Parades Commission but in fact over the period from 2004 to 2014, a total of 1,859 parades had restrictions placed on them.

“This figure substantiates our long-standing view that the current regulatory framework is clearly biased in favour of those who oppose, and choose not to tolerate, our parades.

“This cultural suppression is not acceptable.”

Mr Nelson said “intolerance” was witnessed not only at Drumcree, “but also in Dunloy, Rasharkin, Strabane and more recently in other areas of he Province including Glengormley and Coleraine”.

“Indeed, there is continual deliberate agitation against, and demonisation of our cultural heritage, evidenced only last week by the arson attack on nearby Ballytyrone Orange hall, Loughgall.

“This followed the latest of a long line of attacks on Clifton Street Orange hall in Belfast. Such heinous hate crimes demonstrate there remains a legacy of hatred against the Orange Order amongst a small minority, who are still prepared to attack our property and what we represent.”

District Master of Portadown, Darryl Hewitt, assured brethren they “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”.

Mr Hewitt said last year he wrote to the chair of Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition asking to meet in a neutral venue.

He said whilst he received “a short acknowledgement to his letter” there has not yet been any response to his request.

Mr Hewitt, who said he has met with the leader of the Catholic church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Primate of the Church of Ireland, Archbishop Richard Clarke and the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to discuss Drumcree ,said there was “a need for the Parades Commission to step up to the mark and encourage both sides to the dispute to come to the table and talk”.

“I have to say that the response from that unelected and unaccountable quango is not very helpful,” he added.