Belfast Telegraph

Silence reigns after crunch Drumcree talks

By Noel McAdam

Private talks between Portadown Orange Lodge and Parades Commission leaders have resulted in a mutual vow of silence.

After angry exchanges over the annual flashpoint Drumcree period, both sides have agreed to make no comment on the detail of their "private" meeting.

But it is believed it was designed to "clear the air" between Commission chairman Peter Osborne and the Portadown lodge district master Daryll Hewitt.

Mr Osborne had asked the lodge to consider what impact its weekly token parade was having on community relations in the town - to which the lodge responded by doubling its protest, adding weekly marches on Wednesdays as well as Sundays.

The Orange leaders also refused to comply with normal deadlines for submitting official forms and severely criticised Mr Osborne for refusing to meet with them until after this year's July 12 marches.

It can now be revealed, however, a meeting finally took place a few days before last week's 'rogue' parade when lodge members walked past a bridge where they usually hand over a protest letter to police - after PSNI officers failed to turn up in time.

Police are investigating the incident in which about 30 lodge members came within about 250 yards of the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road, from which the lodge has been banned for 13 years. And in the meantime, the Commission gave the go-ahead for another Wednesday parade this week, which passed off without incident.

But now the lodge and the Commission - which have also both recently met Secretary of State Owen Paterson on the Drumcree issue - have declined to confirm whether further meetings are planned.

Mr Hewitt said: "It was a more useful meeting with the Commission than some we have had. It may have the potential to lead to something but I do not want to raise anyone's expectations."

And a statement from the Commission said: "(We) regard the meeting as having been a private one. While it was a positive and constructive discussion, the Commission will not be commenting further or providing detailed answers to questions."

The Commission also said it has asked the police for a report on what took place last week.

"Any possible charges or prosecutions arising out of that parade are a matter for the PSNI/PPS," a spokesman added.

The pre-Twelfth Orange church parade from Drumcree Church of Ireland dates back 200 years. But its 'homeward' route has been a no-go area for the Orange lodge since 1998.

Belfast Telegraph


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