Fears that tensions in Portadown could boil over in the run-up to the annual Drumcree parade eased last night after the Orange Order made a late formal notification to the Parades Commission of its intention to hold its contentious annual march next weekend.
Members of the Portadown District Lodge handed in the form to police at Drumcree Hill in the Co Armagh town yesterday afternoon. The late submission came after concerns over the ongoing dispute were heightened when the Order missed a deadline to submit an official form to the Parades Commission for the first time in 12 years.
The Portadown District should have applied to the Commission for permission to march by June 6 — some 28 days before the Drumcree Parade on July 4.
The eleven-bar-one application has been consistently rejected. But if no form had been submitted, the annual outward parade would be deemed illegal and could have ramped up tensions.
It is understood the failure to submit the form was in protest at “illegal republican parades”.
In a statement issued last night, the Order said Orangemen yesterday walked the short distance from Drumcree Church to the bottom of Drumcree Hill where they were stopped by a police officer and handed in the form.
“Over the past 18 months in particular there have been a number of parades and demonstrations by republican groups where there has been no notification given to the Parades Commission. As far as we are aware no-one has been questioned from that community by the police after having taken part in an illegal parade/demonstration,” the statement said.
“As Portadown District is an integral part of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, and we are a law- abiding Institution, it was agreed at our recent District meeting that under protest we would indeed comply with the current legislation regarding Parades.”
Two weeks ago, the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition claimed the Order was trying to “up the ante” and “unnecessarily raise tensions” by not meeting the deadline.
Meanwhile, the Whiterock Orange Order parade in west Belfast passed off without incident on Saturday. A large security presence was in place to monitor the situation and a small number of nationalist residents held a silent protest as marchers passed by.