Drumcree parade dispute still costs £23,000 a year to police
THE Drumcree parading dispute is still costing the PSNI more than £23,000 a year to police.
Nearly two decades on, Orangemen still demonstrate every week against being barred from marching along the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown.
A handful of lodge members walk the short distance from Drumcree church every Sunday to the foot of the hill where they are stopped by police.
A larger demonstration is also held each year on the first Sunday before the Twelfth of July, known as Drumcree Sunday.
Three PSNI officers attend for two hours most weeks, while on Drumcree Sunday last year more than 60 were deployed for several hours.
The cost works out at more than £23,000 in policing hours, based on PSNI figures released through a freedom of information request.
Drumcree was once the biggest flashpoint in the north's summer marching season with the parading dispute prompting successive years of serious violence.
The policing operation would have involved heavily fortified barriers, rows of officers in riot gear, armoured Land Rovers and water canon on standby.
At its height the RUC estimated the annual cost of policing the Drumcree protest at £14m.
The demonstration has been held every week since the 1998, at one point attracting Orangemen from across the north showing their support.
But over the years the numbers have fallen, and the policing operation has been significantly scaled back.
SDLP North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon, the party's communities spokesperson and a member of the Policing Board, hit out at the cost of the demonstration.
She said the bill, alongside the £21m spent policing the loyalist Twaddell protest camp in north Belfast, was "obscene".
"It's the price this executive is willing to continue to pay because the Orange Order refuse to accept the lawful determinations of the Parades Commission when it doesn't go their way," she said.
"It is obscene when you think of what this money could have been spent on – employing more nurses, improving mental health services and combating the growing problem of anti-social behaviour to name just a few."
Alliance MLA and justice spokesperson Trevor Lunn said: "This is public money that should not need to be spent on this and is a drain on our already precarious public finances.
"This money could be better spent on combatting the dissident republican threat and putting more resources into community policing.
"Everyone has the right to express their culture and tradition but with those rights come responsibilities. That responsibility involves moving Northern Ireland forward – the time has long passed for these demonstrations to be brought to an end and the police to be allowed to do their job instead of remaining there."
However, Portadown District Master Darryl Hewitt said: "The only reason there is a police presence is because of a determination by the Parades Commission.
"So the people who are responsible for the cost are the people who are against the parade.
"If people wouldn't object to the parade there wouldn't be a police presence and then we would be home."