Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Portadown District Loyal Orange Lodge No 1

  I have been asked by the District Officers of the above District Lodge to respond to your invitation to make a written submission to this inquiry.

  Firstly, I would advise that Portadown District is a member of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and as such we are sure that their submission to the inquiry reflects the views of the wider membership of the Institution including those of Portadown District.

  We are also aware that our District's Legal Representative, Mr Richard Monteith LLB has also provided the inquiry with a written submission and is better qualified to deal with the legislative side of the Parades Commission.

  Portadown District therefore intends to restrict their comments on the Parades Commission to our experiences of the Commission in dealing with parades organised by our own District Lodge and in particular our Annual Parade to and Service at Drumcree Parish Church.

  The Parades Commission was set up following the Independent Review of Parades and Marches chaired by Professor Peter North. Portadown together with other strands of the Loyal Orders participated fully in this review, even though we had our doubts as to the real agenda behind it, given that it talked about the parade conflict only. Bearing in mind that only one side of the community parades to express its history and culture, it is easy to understand why we felt that any review was designed to focus on only one side of a divided community. We would contend that history has proved us right.

  Prior to the Parades Commission, the police were responsible for overseeing parades. Those making decisions did so with the knowledge of the history of the parade in question, the people or body organising it and the reaction of the local community to it. That cannot be said of the Parades Commission.

  Generally speaking, the Parades Commission was appointed to undertake two tasks:

    1.  to mediate between opposing parties;

    2.  where consensus was not possible, to adjudicate on whether a parade should proceed or not.


  The Parades Commission has to date failed to deliver on this part of its remit. It has instead opted to focus all its energies on adjudicating. It has consistently refused to recognise the valuable contribution made by Portadown District in trying to reach a just, honourable and lasting solution to this dispute during the many processes we have been engaged in, a contribution recognised by the Prime Minister both publicly and privately.


  Portadown District has for close on two hundred years walked to Drumcree Parish Church in July to participate in Morning Worship. In 1995 as a result of an illegal street protest, the return walk to Portadown Town Centre was delayed for three days. Regrettably in 1996 as a result of a threat of public disorder by nationalist residents on one part of the route, the return walk home was again delayed. The walk to and from Church in 1997 went ahead, albeit with a heavy police presence.

  In 1998 the Parades Commission assumed responsibility for parades and in its determination refused the District Lodge permission to return to Portadown via its traditional route. The District Lodge decided to remain at Drumcree until permission was received and regrettably will mark the 1000th day at the "Hill" in March of this year. Why was permission refused to Portadown District? The Parades Commission decided to "break the cycle" of this particular walk to and from Church. In subsequent determinations relating to the Annual Service at Drumcree, the Commission has dropped the idea of breaking the cycle and instead hung its hat on the history of violence relating to this particular route. They have never said from where the violence or threat of violence has come. Although local Police Commanders can testify that the District Lodge has never been involved in any violence or public disorder when walking home from Morning Worship at Drumcree Parish Church or indeed from any Church Service.

  If the Commission was honest in its first adjudication and simply vetoed the return walk home in 1998 to break the cycle, then why did it not proceed in 1999? If the Commission wanted to be seen as treating both sides equally, then why did the return walk home not happen in 1999? The Commission has by its actions confirmed the long held suspicions of the Orange Order, namely that the Commission is a political instrument, put in place to placate one side of the community at the expense of the other.

  The Parades Commission continues to urge the District Lodge to meet with them to explain our case. But prior to the Commission taking over responsibility, members of Portadown District did meet with the then Chairman Alister Graham and put our case to him. This submission has never been recognised by the Commission.

  During the past three years, Portadown District together with senior Officers of the Order and legal and political representatives have actively participated in many processes designed to resolve the Garvaghy Road impasse. All of these processes have been implemented by the Prime Minister's Office. All have failed because of the position adopted by the chairman of the residents' association on the Garvaghy Road. His position remains that of "no Orange feet on the Garvaghy Road", a position which is shored up by the Parades Commission. The Parades Commission has refused to recognise the validity of any of these processes. On one occasion its own observers were not permitted (by the residents' group) to sit in on a meeting of representatives of both sides chaired by the Minister of Security, Adam Ingram MP, because the residents did not recognise the meeting as part of a process. The Commission once again demonstrated its unwillingness to treat both sides of this dispute with fairness and equality; they refused to accept that we were genuinely attempting to address the concerns of the residents and so our attempts were not taken into account prior to the next adjudication.

  Portadown District remains suspicious of the independence of the Parades Commission. We have already cited one example of them siding with the residents' group during the various processes aimed at finding a resolution. A second example came about in June 2000. As arrangements were being made for our Annual Service at Drumcree in July of that year, many individuals and groups including members of the business community, church leaders, political and legal representatives made representations to the Parades Commission Chairman. The general feeling emanating from all these meetings was that the Commission was seriously considering the possibility of the parade proceeding. However, at a given time, this seemingly positive approach disappeared and those who had previously made optimistic soundings agreed that the ground had apparently changed and the old negative atmosphere was once again clear for all to see. What happened? Portadown District is convinced that the Police Bill, which was going through the House of Commons and the Lords at this time, was the reason that a negative adjudication was forthcoming. In our opinion, the Commission was told that a Parade along our traditional route would be detrimental to the Bill receiving support from the Nationalist community, particularly if the police had to remove demonstrators from the route.

  In our opinion and one which is gaining support throughout the Province, the Parades Commission has, instead of helping resolve local disputes, in fact escalated them. Community relations in Portadown have never been worse, even during thirty years of the "troubles". The Commission continually fails to treat both sides of the dispute with evenhandedness. It refuses to recognise the importance of parades as part of our history, culture or an outward expression of our faith. It even refuses to acknowledge that the annual Drumcree service is one of the oldest Orange services of our Order and so is of special significance.

  The future success of the Parades Commission depends entirely on its acceptance by the whole community and the present Commission must start out to achieve this by addressing the concerns of the Loyal Orders and showing some understanding of our history and culture.

24 January 2001

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