20 years on from last march, defiant Orangemen vow they won't give up on Drumcree
Garvaghy Road residents have demanded an apology from Drumcree Orangemen over a parading dispute which has lasted almost 20 years.
Portadown District Master Darryl Hewitt revealed the demand came via the Parades Commission and claimed the residents have rejected their talks proposal as he addressed brethren at their weekly protest on Sunday.
Although the Orange Order has not been permitted to complete its parade following an annual church service back to Carleton Street since July 1998, it stages a protest walk to the barrier every Sunday.
Mr Hewitt said district officers have been seeking to achieve a resolution over the past years, but without success. He vowed they will continue to press to be allowed to stage the parade.
"We will not be walking away from this place and I can assure you that we will continue to work hard to achieve what we desire," he said.
The senior Orangeman said nationalist residents from the Garvaghy Road met with the Parades Commission last December and told the officials they wanted an apology.
"They have also in the determination stated that the residents want an apology - what for I'm not sure. Did they contact us to ask if we would issue an apology? No," he said.
"They have also stated there are 45 parades from a unionist/loyalist origin in Portadown every year, many of which include the Orange Order. We have looked at this statement and cannot work out where they get that number from - they must also be including youth parades in this total!
"Have the Parades Commission made any contact with us on any of these issues? No."
Mr Hewitt insisted that Portadown District has offered the residents talks with a neutral chairman and neutral venue and with no preconditions - but he added that this had not received a "favourable response".
"Why have the residents been rewarded for this? Where is the threat of violence coming from? It's certainly not us," he said.
"We were often told 'no talk, no walk', what about 'we've tried to talk, it's time to walk'. We are only looking to complete a traditional parade and remember those who paid the supreme sacrifice for all in this community - the 36th Ulster and 16th Irish Divisions fought alongside each other."
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart was among those who turned out to support the Portadown brethren yesterday.
"Another year has passed and still an unelected quango is deciding the outcome," she told the Belfast Telegraph. "It is frustrating and I would commend those who have faithfully carried on their stand.
"I would call on the Parades Commission to take a common sense approach to this and recognise the rights of the brethren to complete their return parade."
The Drumcree dispute made headlines around the world from 1995 to 2000, with protests against the parade by nationalist residents leading to it being stopped in 1995 and 1996.
This led to a stand-off between the security forces and loyalists. It was allowed again in 1997, before being banned every year since.
Efforts have been ongoing since then to bring about talks between the Orangemen and residents.
Last month, Portadown District LOL took to Twitter to urge that its case be considered by the Prime Minister Theresa May and the DUP in their talks to form a pact at Westminster.