Belfast Telegraph

Orange lodge drops plan for prayers in park amid legal wrangling

BY VICTORIA O'HARA

Nationalists have welcomed a move by an Orange lodge to withdraw controversial plans to use a Portadown park for a prayer meeting during a mini-Twelfth parade.

The People's Park is bounded by the nationalist Garvaghy Road and Tunnel areas of the town.

Portadown Orange Lodge had applied to hold the religious service in the park on June 8, sparking concerns of violence among local politicians and community groups.

The district lodge said it had withdrawn its application "with deep regret".

The move came as a judge granted leave for a judicial review into the decision by Craigavon Borough Council to allow the event in the park.

That decision had been challenged by a resident living near the park, who has been granted anonymity.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Justice Treacy said: "I'm quite satisfied this is a case where the applicant has demonstrated there is an arguable case.

"Given the urgency of the matter I will list this case for a hearing on Monday."

The council voted in favour of allowing the event to go ahead last month.

But lawyers for the woman who challenged the council vote argued that the decision was biased, failed to have due regard to equality of opportunity, and breached her right to privacy and family life.

The SDLP's Dolores Kelly described the withdrawal of the application as a "positive step" by the Portadown Orange lodge.

Ms Kelly, however, criticised the overall decision-making process as a "fundamentally flawed" process that needed to be challenged.

She added that more needed to be done to improve community relations in the Portadown/Craigavon area.

DUP councillors in the borough have tabled a motion calling on the council to withdraw from a £7m project to regenerate the People's Park.

Upper Bann DUP MP David Simpson said the lodge's decision was "regrettable, but unavoidable".

"The nationalist and republican parties in Portadown have sent out a signal that they do not want the park to be a shared space," he said.

In a statement, Portadown District LOL said: "We, as a district, were shocked and dismayed to learn from various sources that residents' groups in the vicinity of the park were prepared to cause disruption on the day in question. We were also made aware of threats being posted on social media websites."

However, Ms Kelly said the council had "failed" to take into account the views of community organisations or residents in the area before making its decision on granting the Orange Order permission to use the park.

"It has been the view of the SDLP and of many in the adjacent areas that this was a provocative act by the Orange Order," she said.

The Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition also welcomed the ruling by the High Court.

Sinn Fein councillor Paul Duffy said "common sense has prevailed".

The Parades Commission, meanwhile, has placed restrictions on the mini-Twelfth parade to take place on the same day as the park event.

BACKGROUND

Craigavon Council voted earlier this month to allow the Orange Order to hold a 'prayers in the park' event on the same night as a mini-Twelfth. Community groups, including the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, had expressed concerns to the council about allowing the June 8 event to go ahead. A resident launched a legal challenge to the decision. A judge has now granted leave for a judicial review.

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