News Letter
3 June 2012

The Parades Commission is guilty of double standards in openly advocating dialogue to resolve the Drumcree stand-off while patronising unionists who have been pressing for talks for six years, it has been claimed.

Craigavon Borough Council member Colin McCusker, of the UUP, yesterday accused the commission of failing to penalise what he described the complete intransigence of the Garvaghy Road nationalist residents. In contrast, Orangemen had in the past been told that if they did not engage in dialogue there would be no parade.

Orangemen last walked their traditional route along the Garvaghy Road to Drumcree Parish Church in 1998. They still hold a token protest there every week.

Mr McCusker said that in April the Parades Commission had backed talks to resolve parade tensions at Ardoyne, chaired by Lord Alderdice. Craigavon Borough Council asked the commission to instigate Lord Alderdice-led talks in Portadown, writing to the commission on May 10.

“On May 18 the commission wrote back to us to say our letter would be passed to all commissioners and that once they had an opportunity to consider it they would come back to us,” Mr McCusker said. “It is obvious there is no sense of urgency in this. Those extreme republicans that are against political progress, like violent protesters at Ardoyne, are being rewarded with talks while peaceful protesters like us are patronised.

“Almost two weeks after we wrote to commission chief executive Peter Osborne he had written a lengthy piece in the News Letter about how dialogue was crucial to resolving Drumcree and other tensions.”

Orange Order District Master for Portadown Darryl Hewitt added: “It is absolutely incredible that we have been pressing the commission to facilitate unconditional talks between us and the Garvaghy Residents Coalition for almost six years now.

“When we wouldn’t talk, we were penalised. Now we will talk, the commission says both sides must be willing to engage before progress can be made.”

Mr McCusker said that even though Breandan Mac Cionnaith of the Garvaghy Roads Residents’ Coalition had engaged in inflammatory language such as calling the Queen a social parasite, Orangemen were willing to meet him.

Mr Mac Cionnaith told the News Letter that the Orange Order had preconditions for talks in that it would not consider alternative routes.

“Both nationalist parties on Craigavon Borough Council contacted the Parades Commission to say the council’s request for Alderdice-chaired talks was a unionist-only motion,” he said.

A Parades Commission spokesperson said that it has outlined to the council its efforts to date to make progress in Portadown. “This has included opportunities for political dialogue, public engagement sessions and meeting over 100 people to take their minds on the issue and the way forward,” a spokesman said. “In our correspondence we valued the interest of Craigavon Borough Council and suggested meeting the political Group Leaders.”