Drumcree 1999 (Irish Times)

“Year’s events have reshaped Orange thinking”


Irish Times 6th July 1999

There has been a subtle change of heart, if not perhaps yet a “seismic shift”, by the Orange Order on the Drumcree parade, argues Brian Kennaway

While one should never regard anything in history as inevitable close observers of the events surrounding the Drumcree Church Service in recent days, can be forgiven for experiencing that feeling of inevitability.  Preceding Sunday’s parade  there was the sense of being driven by events over which one had no control.  A sense that events were in free-fall.  For many it no doubt brought to mind Karl Marx’s dictum, “. . . history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”.

But lest casual observers missed the point let me draw it to their attention.  The history of 1998 did not repeat itself in 1999 in at least one respect.  Portadown District L.O.L. No.1 did NOT traditionally parade to their Service of Morning Prayer at Drumcree Parish Church.  This parade was undertaken by Armagh County Grand Lodge.  Portadown District are, at least in theory, still encamped on the hill at Drumcree waiting a resolution to the return route of their 1998 parade.

The major difference in the 1999 parade, obvious to anyone, is that Portadown District have obeyed the ruling of the Parades Commission that, “participants shall disperse no later than 2.30pm from Drumcree Parish Church”.  Events therefore, thus far, are not as feared by many a mirror image of 1998.  Do we detect some sort of ‘seismic change’ in these events?

The Orange Institution still holds firmly to the right of members of Portadown District to return to Portadown town centre, from their Annual Church Service, by way of the main arterial route of the Garvaghy Road.  But a number of factors have come together over the past twelve months, which collectively have, perhaps, helped to reshape thinking.

The negative image presented by the constant use of Parades and Protest Rallies, some of which resulted in violence, have not enhanced the image of the dispute as being about a ‘walk from Church’.  The repetitive condemnation of violence, by the Institution, with the issuing of press releases, have been ignored, as the world preferred to come to its conclusions by what it actually saw.  As Ruth Dudley Edwards put it in her recent book, with reference to the Portadown District Master, Harold Gracey, in the run-up to the 1997 parade:- “It was clear that no one could move Gracey from his belief that this issue was simply a matter of right and wrong.  He believed as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, that he that ‘doeth the thing which is right, and speaketh the truth from his heart . . . shall never fall”.  However perhaps there is now dawning, the realisation that though the cause is ‘just’ – it can be lost by violence.

The ‘force of numbers’ argument advocated recently by Ian Paisley junior, himself not a member of the Institution, is evidently one not attempted thus far in the dispute this year.  The dangers of such a strategy should be obvious to even the dimmest in society.  To bring vast numbers onto the streets under any circumstances is a high risk strategy.  To adopt this policy in a volatile situation is the height of stupidity.  Perhaps it is beginning to be realised that the arguments advocated thirty years ago against the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, bringing vast numbers onto the streets in public protest and not accepting the consequences of the violence which resulted, equally apply today in the present dispute.

The realisation, by some particularly close to the situation, that the Institution, not for the first time, was perhaps being used by politicians to suit their own political agendas, may have contributed to a rethink after twelve months of protracted dispute.

Pressure to think again has come from various quarters both outside and inside the Institution.  The pressure of public opinion has been coming into the public arena by way the press.  Editorials in the two main local newspapers, the Belfast Telegraph and the Newsletter, have since last year been urging both restraint and dialogue.

While some members of the Institution may want to disregard the more recent Parades Commission survey, on the grounds that because they paid for it, it must be tainted, it would unwise to disregard it completely.  This survey which showed that of 82% of those sympathetic to the Institution 80% favoured dialogue, was conducted independently by ‘Research and Evaluation Services”.

Perhaps it is just beginning to dawn on those with responsibility in making decisions over Drumcree, that you cannot conduct a campaign for the right to exercise your traditional walk from Morning Prayer at Drumcree Parish Church, without at least the tacit support of the main Protestant churches.  The response of the Archbishop, Dr. Eames and the Presbyterian Moderator Dr. Lockington, himself an Orangeman, have added to the general pressure of external forces to seek a new way of resolving this dispute.

Voices of sanity have been raised from within, as attempts have been made to present a reasonable and rational case, for dealing with disputes in ways other than the traditional way of confrontation.  But pressure from within the Order was most obvious when all the County Grand Lodges, with one exception, decided not to support the proposal to present a collective force of numbers at Drumcree on the Twelfth of July.

The most significant factor in the run-up to Drumcree this year must be the revelation that four Orangeman with the “knowledge and approval” of Portadown District L.O.L. No.1, met in “face to face” negotiations with representatives of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition.

Whether or not this is a truly ‘seismic change’ on the part of the members of Portadown District will be revealed over the next week.  But we wait patiently to see a ‘seismic change’ on the part of the Garvaghy Road  Residents Coalition.

My question therefore, to the residents of the Garvaghy Road, in this column two years ago still remains unanswered:-

“In what circumstances will you not object to the valid expression of a religion, culture and identity, held by the majority of the population of Northern Ireland, and not obstruct that expression by blocking the return route of the parade along the Garvaghy Road from Morning Prayer at Drumcree Parish Church?”

Brian Kennaway (Rev.)


Education Committee

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland