09 July 2023

Secretary of State urged to help find resolution to Drumcree dispute

09 July 2023

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has been urged to intervene to help find a resolution to a 25-year-old Co Armagh parading dispute.

Members of the Orange Order have staged an annual protest during the Drumcree parade in Portadown for more than two decades.

However, the Parades Commission again refused permission for the return route to proceed along the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road, a ruling maintained since 1998.

Orange Order members on Sunday held a short protest at the police lines barring them from the return route.

The order’s grand secretary Mervyn Gibson insisted their protest will continue as he called on the Parades Commission to be disbanded.

Standing close to the police line, Mr Gibson said it brought back memories of the Orange Order and the wider unionist community standing together.

“It’s great but also sad to see that brethren have been standing here for 25 years – 25 years and everybody thinks its sorted,” he said.

“Recent interviews on the radio, I was told ‘this is sorted’, I assured them it wasn’t sorted and that brethren would remain here until there is a resolution.

“That resolution is for the brethren of Portadown to find with those who are prepared to listen to them, with those who are prepared to compromise with them, with those who are prepared to talk with them.

“The Parades Commission has a major part to play and they have failed Portadown district, they have failed Northern Ireland in so many different ways.

“It is time for them to go. It is time for the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) to exercise some influence to see a resolution here.

“This shows the people of Northern Ireland and wider world that the Drumcree situation is still here, and we’re determined to support the Portadown brethren until a resolution is found.”

Responding, a Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said decisions around parades “are a matter for the Parades Commission acting independently of the Government”.

“The Parades Commission continues to have the full support of the Government in their challenging role in relation to parades in Northern Ireland,” they said.

“Dialogue remains the best way to find a solution to local issues such as Drumcree.”

This year’s parade set off from Carleton Street Orange Hall in Portadown town centre on Sunday morning to a church service at Drumcree Parish Church.

Twenty-five years ago the parade was first prevented from completing its traditional return route, with the stand-off making headlines in the 1990s when nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road resolutely opposed to the parade passing through their area.

This lead to violent clashes for several summers and political tensions that resulted in a major security operation.

I think you might as well ask to refight the Battle of the Boyne, that is a fight that is in the past

The parades mark the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, an act that secured a Protestant line of succession for the British crown.

Earlier Upper Bann DUP MP Carla Lockhart said it was a “very sad day that 25 years on from this dispute we’re still in the same situation where Orange feet are not welcome on a particular stretch of road”.

She told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme: “I want to see a society where our culture is respected, our identity is respected, and I think it is no big thing to ask that the Garvaghy Road Residents Association enter in to some form of mediation.

“Unfortunately for many, many years their intransigence has actually been rewarded by the Parades Commission.

“We can’t move on if there is no respect or tolerance for a 10-minute walk down a route which has changed enormously over the last 25 years.”

However SDLP MP Claire Hanna said the dispute is in the past.

“I think you might as well ask to refight the Battle of the Boyne, that is a fight that is in the past,” she said.

“That dispute, as anyone who was around at the time will know, was profoundly damaging to community relations. There were awful scenes around it and awful consequences.

“I think the DUP need to get their heads around the world we are living in today, and to offer leadership around the world we are living in today.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox