Drumcree parade ends peacefully

 

Today's Drumcree Orange Order Parade in Co Armagh has ended peacefully despite members being barred from the most contentious part of the route.

Orangemen seen through the security barrier at Drumcree Bridge today
Orangemen seen through the security barrier at Drumcree Bridge today
The protest at the Portadown March, once the most violent in recent years, was low key. The head of the local Loyal Order district said they had offered to meet face to face with nationalist Garvaghy Road residents, whose opposition has prompted the banning of demonstrators from the area since 1998.

This is the fourth year without violence. Portadown District Master Darryl Hewitt said: "We are committed to face to face talks under an independent chairman, with no preconditions. All options are open. "(The Parade's commission) sat on their hands for nine months until we went public with our offer of talks a few weeks ago."

Several hundred Orange men and band members braved a downpour as they ended their parade at the bridge near Drumcree Parish Church. At one stage there had been a imposing green metal wall dividing the two sides but today there was only an open metal gate and a handful of police vehicles.

However, Mr Hewitt said: "Some would have us believe that there is a new political dispensation, for some that might be true, however, as we stand here today in front of this metal barrier we must ask the question 'When will this political dispensation apply to the rights of freedom of the Orange Brethren standing here at Drumcree Hill?"'

Nationalists have argued that the demonstrators are not welcome in the Garvaghy Road and cause disruption to local residents.

Sinn Fein Assembly member John O'Dowd said that meaningful talks could start now that this year's parade ended peacefully. "We can be optimistic and move forward with that but you are not going to resolve this overnight and the Parades Commission has recognised this as well.

"The Parades Commission have said themselves that it will take a period of time to establish the framework around which the talks will take place. There needs to be a mediator appointed and an independent chair."

Orangemen have said that they made their offer of unconditional dialogue nine months ago and argued that ample time had been allowed for its settlement. This was the last demonstration to commemorate the First World War battle of the Somme to involve the Reverend John Pickering. He is the rector at Drumcree Church and is retiring this year. He added that he hoped there would soon be a peaceful resolution.