Drumcree sides must accept responsibility


Speaking at the recent meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, John Richardson a member of the Orange Order said, “The Egyptians had their plagues, the Church of Ireland has its Drumcree”.

The Church of Ireland Archbishop, Robin Eames, makes reference to Drumcree as his ‘Calvary’, which I am sure should not be interpreted in a strictly theological sense.  If it is, the forthcoming “Drumcree” will be his seventh!

The distressing thing about yet another Drumcree stand-off is not its annual repetition, nor its legitimate expression of a religious culture and tradition, but the intransigence and the violence.  That this stand-off should be allowed to continue for so long is a challenge to any modern democratic society.

The past six years are littered with the efforts of various people and groups to broker a compromise over this most contested piece of road.  All to no avail.  The use of various ‘brokers’ like Brendan McAlister of Mediation Network, in the earlier years of the dispute,  to the more recent involvement of Brian Currin the South African Human rights lawyer have all produced no positive result.

The intransigence on the part of both sides in this dispute is beyond comprehension.  The procedural wrangling of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition at the various initiatives is only matched by the stubbornness of the Portadown District to get involved in ‘face to face’ negotiations.  The refusal of the Coalition to accept a British Government Minister to adjudicate the dispute on the grounds that the Government was part of the problem, is only matched by the refusal of Portadown District to talk directly to McKenna on the grounds of his terrorist past.  The morality for such a position was lost when Portadown Master Harold Gracey shared a platform with Billy Wright.

The difficulty at the heart of this dispute is the problem of accepting responsibility for your actions.  It is a problem as old as mankind.  When God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”,  Adam replied, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”  Likewise the woman blamed it on someone else:- “The serpent deceived me, and I ate”. (Genesis 3:11-13)

It is however the violence which is the most visible and unacceptable aspect of this dispute.  Over the years instead of the word “Drumcree” depicting a small peaceful and secluded hamlet in County Armagh,  it has become a by-word for disruption and violence on a massive scale.

Having public protests which result in the injury or death of members of the Security Forces, must bring shame on any organisation which professes to be both Christian and Loyal.   Those who call people on to the streets today, particularly in a volatile situation, must accept responsibility for the consequences. Human responsibility is a fundamental principle of the Gospel.  Accepting personal responsibility for our actions is also a sign of maturity.  But the Scriptures also teach us that we are ‘our brothers keeper’.  Paul encourages the early Christians  – “Do not cause anyone to stumble”(1 Corinthians 10:32). In accepting responsibility for our actions we must also recognise that we must accept some responsibility for the results of our actions!  We cannot wash our hands, either in public or in private, of the consequences of our actions.  We should not forget that history has not judged Pontius Pilate well for a similar ‘hand washing’ exercise!

There have of course been statements issued condemning the violence, but actions speak louder than words.

In their book on Drumcree, released today, Chris Ryder and Vincent Kearney summarise events as follows:- “Its leaders had vacillated about condemning violence, issued ambiguous and contradictory statements, refused to distance themselves from the likes of Adair and generally appeared to have acted like rabbits in a car’s headlights. . . . Within Grand Lodge equivocation and ambivalence were the order of the day”.

The ambivalence towards violence is further revealed when in 1998 in the midst of the increasing violence Harold Gracey the District Master of Portadown refused to read a statement because it contained a sentence condemning violence.

The Orange Order might well spend £50,000 on training individuals to make a good presentation on the media, but it would all appear to be in vain when Harold Gracey gets in front of the microphone.

And yet all this could and should be very different.  The BASIS of the Orange Institution is in the public domain.  It states:-

“It is exclusively an Association of those who are attached to the religion of the Reformation, and will not admit into its brotherhood persons whom an intolerant spirit leads to persecute, injure, or upbraid any man on account of his religious opinions.”

Rev. Brian Kennaway.

Crumlin Presbyterian Church.

Former Convenor,

Education Committee,

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.


This article appeared in the Irish Times on 16th June 2001