Orange Order tactics ``unacceptable''
Parades Commission vindicates Garvaghy residents' concerns
BY FERN LANE
``This is a total vindication of everything that we always said.'' That was Breandán Mac Cionnaith's response to the determination of the Parades Commission on Monday, banning the Orange Order from marching down the Garvaghy Road this Sunday, 9 July.
Along with its determination, the Commission also issued some carefully worded but nevertheless stinging criticisms of the Order's behaviour and tactics over the past number of years. In a document detailing the background to the dispute which accompanied the determination, the Commission says of the Order's insistence on filing continuously for parades and its prolonged siege of the Garvaghy Road: ``The Parades Commission has tried time and time again to alert the Orange Order to the unacceptable nature of the strategy it has pursued. The strategy has progressively undermined whatever hope there might have been for securing a local agreement in relation to the Drumcree church parade.''
The Parades Commission has tried time and time again to alert the Orange Order to the unacceptable nature of the strategy it has pursued. The strategy has progressively undermined whatever hope there might have been for securing a local agreement in relation to the Drumcree church parade
The document also severely criticises the Order for its refusal to engage in discussion or negotiation with the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, saying that ``there has been insufficient effort by the Portadown District to address and accommodate the legitimate concerns of the residents of the Garvaghy Road. The Portadown District does its case no good by refusing to face up to the reality that the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition enjoys widespread support from the nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road. The District's refusal to engage with the residents' representatives tends to reinforce the residents' views that the Orange Order sees nationalists as second class citizens.''
The Commission refutes the Portadown District's claim that the threatening behaviour, often culminating in violence against the nationalist population which has become such a feature of life in Portadown, is unconnected to its own activities, saying:
``Another key feature of the Drumcree dispute is the violence that has been associated with it. The Orange Order cannot wholly escape responsibility for bringing thousands of people onto the streets in circumstances which led to serious large scale rioting, assaults and other unlawful acts across much of Northern Ireland in 1996 and 1998. The ongoing protest vigil and the applications to complete the parade route which have been submitted each week since July 1998 provide a constant stimulus to the high level of tension in the area... We have received disturbing evidence about the stress that this has imposed on the residents in the Garvaghy Road area.''
d of the Portadown District Lodge's insistence that it has made numerous attempts to enter into dialogue - despite its longstanding refusal to talk to the residents' representatives or to recognise the Commission - the Commission notes that ``the continuation and recent intensification of its protest action and irresponsible comments which have been made by spokesmen for the Portadown District about the prospects for a peaceful outcome to this year's parade, do not suggest any fundamental shift in the District's position''.
After the disgraceful scenes which have accompanied the marches in previous years, the Commission also noted that: ``There is continuing evidence that parades organised by or in support of the the Portadown District LOL No.1 have breached the Commission's Code of Conduct . Despite making adherence to the Code a condition for such parades taking place, offensive language and gestures continue to be used by participants and music that is perceived to be sectarian is played at sensitive interface areas and outside churches.''
In his statement, however, the Commission Chairman, Tony Holland, did describe the circumstances in which the Parades Commission believes that a limited parade could take place along the Garvaghy Road ``ideally within the next three to eight months''. Those conditions are that the Order:
- ``Complies with the terms of the Commission's determination'' - in other words, that it recognises the Parades Commission;
- Introduces an immediate moratorium upon Drumcree-related protest parades and demonstrations;
- Avoids any actions which could reasonably be perceived as an incitement to break the law or which are intentionally designed to raise inter-communal tension;
- Engages, along with the representatives of the Garvaghy Road Residents, in the Currin initiative and in any civic forum that may be established and
- Undertakes that, following any parade, the protest vigil at Drumcree will not resume.
Critically, however, the Commission also said that it could not ``envisage circumstances in which any subsequent Orange Order parade could take place along the Garvaghy Road except on the basis of a local agreement'', a statement which recognises that, should the Order accept the conditions - which it has already said it will not - and should the residents therefore agree to a limited parade, such a march would in all likelihood be the last of its kind on the Garvaghy Road. The circumstances of such a march would, of course, also set a precedent for other disputed Orange marches around the Six Counties.
Whilst the determination has been welcomed by residents' representatives - who after all have themselves long said much the same thing about the experience of nationalists living in Portadown as the Commission's background document now does - the continuing negativity of the Order, whilst predictable is, still a source of anger and disappointment.
Garvaghy Road independent councillor Joe Duffy, who has also been in the forefront of fighting for residents' rights, told An Phoblacht that that he believes ``the majority of the Protestant community does not want anything to do with this. The Orange Order is only a small part of the community but it is they who have held the state in a vice-like grip from its inception. But the rantings of Harold Gracey tell us where the Orange Order is really going. They are not prepared to move forward on the basis of equality. Gracey was telling Orangemen that this country is `going to the dogs'. What does he mean by that? What he means is that Orangeism should be in the ascendancy.''