Marching down the hill
Marching down the hill
The nationalist Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition looks at how the impasse over the annual march to Drumcree Hill in Portadown by the Protestant Orange Order in Portadown can be resolved.


In July last year, as the Drumcree Orange march approached, the Orange Order in Portadown announced to the media that a set of proposals had been forwarded to Jonathon Powell, the British Prime Minister’s chief of staff, some time in June.

Before addressing the document which was sent, and which LOL No1 has again tabled this year, it is important that Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) record the background and the context within

which that document can properly be considered.

It is also worth noting that while LOL No 1 chose to contact the media in relation to their document, it chose not to forward anything to the GRRC until almost two weeks after the actual Drumcree march.

As no-one from Mr Powell’s office contacted the GRRC in relation to that document in June or July of last year, we can only assume that they saw little merit in the Orange Order’s proposals.

We responded fully to the Orange Order’s proposals last year and did so again when they re-tabled those proposals this year. At no time during the past year, or on any occasion previously, has LOL No 1 sought to address any of the concerns raised, nor has it sought to provide any explanation or clarification to any issues.

It is our view that Portadown District’s document to Jonathon Powell was similar to those previously submitted by LOL No 1 during several of the various “proximity processes” which took place from July 1998 onwards.

Indeed, nothing has been included in, or added to, the Orange Order’s document to reflect or accommodate nationalist concerns. It is clear that this recent document, as with all others, can take effect only after the Orange Order in Portadown has been guaranteed the completion of the legally rerouted 1998 march along Garvaghy Road as a result of indirect talks convened solely with that predetermined outcome as the only product.

It should be remembered that the 1998 march, like those in the years immediately preceding it, resulted in the use of unlawful means and widespread violence by members and supporters of the Orange Order during that July.

The Drumcree protest organised from 1995 to 1999 by the Orange Order in Portadown became a campaign of frequent, violent intimidation directed against the Catholic/nationalist community in Portadown, particularly during 1998 and 1999.

It appears from their correspondence that the Orange Order does not intend, during such indirect talks, to engage in debate or discussion on any other issue or outcome except that of how, from an Orange Order viewpoint, the completion of the 1998 march which resulted in those events described above, would take place.

On that basis alone, it appears that any contrary perspectives, alternative viewpoints or concerns in relation to Orange Order marches put forward by the Catholic and nationalist community in Portadown, (including all papers and proposals forwarded by the GRRC to LOL No 1 since 1998), are not deemed by LOL No 1 to be equally valid, correct or worthy of respect.

In those previous papers submitted to the Orange Order, we set out clearly the substantial grounds upon which objections to a proposed march were based.

In 2001 the Parades Commission also included a number of those grounds and objections in an itemised manner in a review of their main determination, a copy of which was received by LOL No 1 in Portadown.

At no point has the Orange Order in Portadown even attempted to address those issues and concerns, nor have they indicated any willingness to do so.

Therefore, by this insistence on the securing of a predetermined outcome and by refusing to consider alternative viewpoints, the Orange Order’s document cannot be described or construed as forming the foundations for any genuine dialogue or engagement.

It is also noticeable that the Orange Order in Portadown seems to indicate that, after a guaranteed march has taken place, it may take part in whatever mechanisms are established to achieve future consent. It does not give any firm undertaking that it will do so, a lesson not lost on this community from 1995.

However, despite being requested several times to explain those mechanisms, the Order remains completely vague and reticent about what it sees as being the nature of such a mechanism.

Furthermore, if LOL No 1 is genuinely and sincerely committed to organising marches on a non-contentious basis with consent, it must explain why it is not prepared for that consent principle to be applied unconditionally with immediate effect rather than be predicated upon an insistence of completing an extremely violent event which occurred five years ago in 1998.

Indeed we would go further and ask that LOL No 1 endorse the sentiments of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland which were made in a submission to the Northern Ireland affairs Committee in October last year. In that written submission, the Grand Orange Lodge acknowledged that problems can be posed by parades which are politically motivated. It also stated: “Disorder and misbehaviour by persons participating should necessitate further careful consideration by the police as to whether the procession could be repeated.

“So far as possible they should not pass through residential areas unless the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants are known to support those processing.”

The Drumcree parade commemorates major political events and upheavals which took place on this island over 300 years ago and which still resonant through to today. In the eyes of the vast majority of the Catholic/nationalist community, Orange parades, particularly those which pass through residential areas where the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants are known not to support those processing, are indeed viewed as politically motivated.

Furthermore, there is a clear and irrefutable body of evidence to support the case that serious disorder has occurred on the part of those participating in the Drumcree parade. Indeed, as recently as 2002, the Orange Order has actually given support and succour to those charged as a result.

Portadown has enjoyed a period of relative calm for the past year.

That is not to say there has been a complete absence of sectarian attacks, nor an absence of division or tension.

However, there is a sense that Portadown is starting to move beyond the conflicts of the past - it is time the Orange Order did so too.

Hopefully, that is the real reason they have chosen, within the last 10 days, to talk to officials of the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and directly to the Parades Com-mission. Those who are more cynical might say that a media-interest event, like last year, is the reason.

Whatever, the reasoning behind those discussions, one reality cannot be ignored - LOL No 1 will also have to speak to, and reach agreement with, an ever-growing and ever-expanding nationalist community in Portadown in relation to their marches some day.

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