A senior Portadown Orangeman has called on the Secretary of State to convene “urgent and meaningful discussions” in a bid to resolve the long-running Drumcree dispute.
Worshipful District Master Darryl Hewitt made the call today as Portadown Orangemen were again stopped from taking their traditional return route from Drumcree Parish Church to Carleton Street Orange Hall.
In a repeat of scenes that have been played out every July for the past 20 years, marchers were halted by police – imposing a ruling by the Parades Commission – as they attempted to make their way towards the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road.
Addressing brethren at the demonstration, Mr Hewitt said: “It is incredible to think that 20 years have passed since our late District Master, Harold Gracey, said that we would remain at this place until our civil and religious liberties had been restored. We have done so, not out of any feeling of superiority or of massaging egos, but simply because it is the right thing to do whenever we have a grave injustice inflicted upon us.”
Stressing that district officers have been working for a number of years in a bid to resolve the dispute, he vowed that they will not walk away, but will continue to strive “to achieve what we desire.”
“Today, after 20 years of justified protest, I would once again publicly underline our commitment to a fair and equitable solution to this matter,” Mr Hewitt continued.
“I would therefore urge the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, to convene urgent and meaningful discussions between all interested parties in this dispute, without delay.
“Portadown District will certainly not be found wanting. The question is, will others step up to the mark and act in the interests of the wider community?”
In the lead up to today’s parade, the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition issued a statement saying “it should be noted that nationalists in Portadown have repeatedly declared their willingness to accept the alternative, less contentious route along Corcrain Road/Dungannon Road which still provides members of the Orange Order to exercise their right of freedom of assembly to and from Drumcree.”
Reacting to the group’s statement, Mr Hewitt described it as “a surprising occurrence given their definitive silence of recent years.”
He went on to voice concerns about “an increase in attacks” on other aspects of Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist culture.
“We must remain calm during this time – these actions are only being done to raise tensions and to get us to retaliate – something we must not do,” the retired teacher said.
“Let the world see these attacks on our culture for what they are, unadulterated sectarian behaviour.”
With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, Mr Hewitt also spoke about the importance of remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and protecting the democratic freedoms and principles that so many gave their lives for.
“Our resolve has not diminished over the weeks, months and indeed years,” he added. “No one should be in any doubt, Portadown District are in this for the long haul. We will not be deflected from seeking to achieve our objective.
“Here we stand, we can do no other.”
• Read related story - Drumcree dispute ‘cannot run on forever and ever and day’: Hewitt