Annual Drumcree parade passes without incident


THE ANNUAL Drumcree parade, the site of some of the North’s worst rioting in the 1990s, has passed off peacefully.

Orange Lodge members from Portadown yesterday marched from the Church of Ireland on Drumcree Hill to the police cordon that prevents them from returning to the town via the Garvaghy Road.

The short walk from church to cordon has become a weekly ritual, in protest at the 1998 ruling by the Parades Commission that the return parade must not pass through the nationalist Garvaghy Road.

About 50 Orangemen gathered for yesterday’s procession in the pouring rain. Addressing the small crowd, Portadown district master Darryl Hewitt said the protest would continue every Sunday until “our rights have been restored”.

He continued: “Our resolve has not diminished over the weeks and months. No one should be in any doubt – Portadown District are in this for the long haul.”

Referring to attempts by the Parades Commission to create dialogue between community leaders in Portadown, he said: “The Parades Commission have only recently met with the GRRC . Whilst this is to be welcomed, the commission must encourage dialogue and engagement between the two parties concerned. I can assure you once again that Portadown District will not be found wanting.”

Inviting marchers to avail of refreshments at the church, Mr Hewitt ended on a defiant note: “According to the [commission’s] determination, we are to leave this place by 2.30pm today. However . . . we do not intend leaving by the time an unelected quango has told us to leave by.” Earlier, the parade had passed the Catholic chapel on the Garvaghy Road where a few onlookers gathered amid a discreet security presence, but there was no formal coalition protest.

Coalition spokesman Breandán Mac Cionnaith said although things “looked quiet”, it was still a tense time of year.

“If you had been speaking to me this time last year, I would have said things were calm, but within days we had violence erupt in this town. These tensions are never far from the surface,” he said.

Responding to allegations by the Orange Order that the coalition was reluctant to negotiate, he said: “What most people don’t know is that the Orange Order will only meet us if preconditions are in place. They will not discuss alternative routes – they only want to discuss how their traditional route can be upheld.”