Dialogue & Drumcree



In the last decade a new phrase has come into the language of this island, north and south.  That phrase is “Drumcree Sunday”.

As we approach “Drumcree Ten”, this annual display of bigotry, one is reminded of the dictum of Karl Marx: – “. . . history repeats itself the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce”.

There are many reasons why this annual display of self-inflicted tragedy has eluded the best efforts of skilled mediators and Professors of conflict resolution.  In every situation of conflict there must be a genuine willingness by both parties to find a resolution and if needs be, agree to accept the outcome of arbitration.

In any democratic, civilised and tolerant society the right of public expression is an inalienable right.  In that sense the Orangemen of Portadown, have the right to walk the Garvaghy Road.  But we are not living in a civilised and tolerant society, and there is a question over its democratic nature.  The tragedy of Drumcree is the tragedy of a society which refuses accept people who differ from themselves – whether in colour, culture or religion.

It is obvious to most observers that the two sides in this conflict are approaching the issues with very different motivations.  The Garvaghy Road residents have only to play a sit and wait game.  They have time on their side and now since 1996 also tradition.  They do not have to “engage” with anyone; after all they do not want to do anything.

It is therefore left to the Portadown District Lodge to actively seek a resolution to this impasse.  The District Lodge, though willing to deal with the Parades Commission, are hampered in resolving this issue by the dicktat of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.  The greatest stumbling block to a resolution therefore is the failure of the Orange leadership at Grand Lodge level.  Parading is inextricably linked to the Orange tradition but not essential to Orangeism.  The present stance of the leadership in elevating policy to principle and making parading the touch-stone of the Institution is ultimately to the detriment of Orangeism.

By constantly affirming that “the policies of Grand Lodge must be adhered to”, that there should be no contact with the Parades Commission, as they are an “unelected quango”, the leadership is acting against the best interests of the Institution and the long established Orange parading tradition.

This Grand Lodge dicktat has been under great strain in recent days, as it has become evident that the leadership themselves have been in regular contact with the Parades Commission, as well as with representatives of paramilitary organisations.  Orangemen, holding to traditional orange values, find it incredible that their leadership should publicly attempt to enforce a policy of “no contact” with a body established by Her Majesty’s Loyal Government, yet ignore that policy themselves.  To refuse contact to a legitimate government body yet negotiate with representatives of illegal paramilitary groups is an anathema to many rural Orangemen.

In spite of this dicktat, there are numerous instances of District and Private Lodges “engaging in direct dialogue” with the Parades Commission.  Recently representatives of Portadown District Lodge went to South Africa with the Parades Commission.  Unfortunately the Garvaghy Road residents refused to go.

If the Orange Institution is to survive in the twenty-first century it must by word and deed return to its Christian and democratic principles.  If it is to adhere to its basic Christian foundation principles then there is no excuse for refusing to talk to the Parades Commission.  How can any organisation claiming to be based on the Bible refuse to talk to anyone made in the image of God?

The democratic nature of the Orange Institution, so often lauded by the leadership, should be put into practice.  Not only have the membership been voting with their feet, defying Grand Lodge policy and dealing with the Parades Commission, but have in November 2000 indicated their desire to talk to the Commission.

This survey of District Lodges carried out by the “Review Committee” of Grand Lodge revealed that the membership were overwhelmingly in favour of talking to the Parades Commission.  The former Executive Officer, George Patton, told the BBC at the initiation of the survey, “It’s simply being done to look at what we have been doing right and what, if anything, we have been doing wrong”.  Why have surveys, if you are going to ignore the results?

Unless the Christian and democratic values of Orangeism are reinstated immediately, and such duplicitous activity is abandoned, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland will lose what little credibility they still have – even among a large proportion of their own rank and file membership.

One wonders how Karl Marx would have described the tenth repetition of history!

Rev Brian Kennaway

Former Convenor

Education Committee

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.


This article appeared in the Irish Times on 28th June 2004