Irish Republican News · July 5, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

The tenth annual parade by Orangemen in Portadown since trouble first arose passed off quietly yesterday, but there is still no sign they will hold face-to-face talks with nationalist residents.

Less than a thousand members of the Protestant Orange Order took part in the parade, which was rerouted away from the predominately Catholic Garvaghy Road, where residents again objected to the march through their area.

The Portadown Lodge had caused a rift within the Orange hierarchy after making contact with the government-appointed Parades Commission, which leaders do not recognise. The lack of Orangemen from across the county reduced the usual numbers of bowler-hatted, sash-draped marchers.

A smaller than usual media presence also served to reduce tension for what had once been the worst day for confrontation and conflict in the North of Ireland.

Although the presence of British Crown forces was lower than in recent years, fields near the infamous barricade were filled with soldiers, and 50ft high cameras surveyed everything that moved in the area.

Local Orangemen said they were disappointed at the Parade Commission’s ruling to reroute the parade for the seventh year, but said work to resolve the dispute would continue.

District Master David Burrowes was in determined mood when addressing Orange Order members.

“No matter what people say, Portadown District is still on the road,” he said.

“We have continually worked since 1998 in a variety of ways to try to resolve this while maintaining a stand started by our late District Master Harold Gracey.

“There must come a time when this crazy decision to uphold the nationalist veto on our parade is ended.”

The numbers at yesterday’s Drumcree parade were down on previous years. A few hundred lined the route out to Drumcree Church.

There was also fewer flags on show on the Garvaghy Road and in loyalist areas.

After an hour-long church service, the parade formed up again and walked the short distance to Drumcree bridge and the security barrier.

The Orangemen handed in a letter of protest and shortly afterwards left the hill. Just as quickly, police and army began dismantling their fortifications in the area.

District spokesman David Jones said they were prepared to take part in talks through intermediaries with nationalist residents.

He ruled out immediate face-to-face talks but did not discount the possibility that those could happen in the future.

“As the Parades Commission has clearly stated, while they would say face-to-face talks are preferable, they are not wholly necessary,” Mr Jones said.

Garvaghy Road residents spokesman Breandan Mac Cionnaith last night insisted that talks with nationalist residents were still on offer. However he insisted the Drumcree dispute could only be resolved when the order enters into direct dialogue with Garvaghy Road residents.

“The Parades Commission said again last week that the Garvaghy Road residents are the only group which has offered to go into direct dialogue without preconditions,” he said.

“People should ask why the Portadown Orangemen are now prepared to lift its ban on speaking to the Parades Commission but still refuse to talk to nationalist residents.

“The only way this issue can be solved is through face-to-face dialogue without preconditions.

“The people of Garvaghy Road say they are willing to go into such dialogue and now it is up to the order to explain what is stopping it from taking the same step.”

Sinn Féin Assembly member John O’Dowd said that while yesterday’s parade had passed-off without incident, nationalist residents had still faced major disruption due to a heavy security force presence.

“There are thousands of Orange Order parades each year in the six counties, a number which is growing year on year,” he said.

Mr O’Dowd said that while no one was trying to stop parades the order had to accept that a number of marches were contentious.

“What we are saying is that it is time the order started preparing for a future without trying to force unwanted parades through nationalist areas.

“Dialogue is required to find a resolution to issues around parades,” he said.

We have a favour to ask

We want to keep our publication as available as we can, so we need to ask for your help. Irish Republican News takes time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe it makes a difference. If everyone who reads our website helps fund it, our future would be much more secure.

For as little as £1, you can support Irish Republican News – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

© 2004 Irish Republican News