The Orange Order in Portadown has denied reports that it is willing to engage in direct talks with representatives of the nationalist Garvaghy Road over the issue of parade routes for the first time.
The long-running dispute over sectarian Protestant parades through Catholic housing estates in the town saw heavy violence and widespread disturbances in the mid to late 1990s. While the annual stand-off is now largely peaceful, the Orange Order remains determined to march through the town’s nationalist enclave. The Order has always refused to discuss the matter directly with local residents.
Confusion arose this week after newspapers misreported a suggestion by the Parades Commission -- set up to adjudicate on controversial parade routes -- that the Orangemen would accept independent mediation to resolve the dispute. However, it has since emerged that only indirect, mediated talks are being contemplated. Without direct talks, the major stumbling block to resolving the dispute remains.
Spokesman David Jones said there had been no change in the Portadown Orangemen’s position.
“We have said we are willing to engage in a mediation process with an independent chairman,” Mr Jones said.
“Certainly at some point that could involve both sides being in the same room at the same time talking through a chairman, but there is no change in that position.”
Instead, he accused the Parades Commission of “dragging its feet”.
Mr Jones said new commission chairman Roger Poole had taken up position a year ago emphasising that successful mediation could put the commission out of business.
“Since then we have heard nothing about the appointment of an independent chairman and we have not been invited to take part in any mediation process,” he said.
Garvaghy Road Residents’ spokesman Breandan Mac Cionnaith said the residents had received no indication from the Orange Order about the talks.
“We have received an indication from the Parades Commission that there could be a possibility of dialogue but we are waiting for confirmation,” he said.
“What is needed here is dialogue without any preconditions but we have received no direct correspondence from the Orange Order or definite details from the Parades Commission.”
SDLP Assembly member Dolores Kelly criticised the Order.
“For too long they have ignored or attempted to bypass the wishes of the residents of the Garvaghy Road,” Ms Kelly said.
She said that the reports amounted to just “another bit of the Orange Orders new-found spin.
“Real substance to any proposals are what the residents require and deserve.”
A spokesman for the Parades Commission was not available for comment.