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Orange Order: Parades issue is not settled

The annual Drumcree parade was again prevented from walking down the Garvaghy road on their return to Carlton Street Orange Hall in July this year. Picture Matt Bohill/Pacemaker Press

The Grand Secretary of the Orange Order has said despite Northern Ireland enjoying the quietest summer in many years this should not been seen a sign that the parading dispute is settled.

Speaking to the Irish News, Mervyn Gibson said that in the event of direct rule the Orange Order would be lobbying Westminster for the scrapping of the Parades Commission and new legislation to deal with controversial marches.

The Drumcree parade, which has been banned from Garvaghy Road in Portadown since the setting up of the commission in 1998, is key among those the Orange Order will want urgently revisited.

"We didn't bring it up this year deliberately, but we still see the legislation being changed, and it would be difficult if there were a lot of concessions to nationalists under direct rule but no change to parading legislation.

"The difficulty is we still need the parades issue dealt with and we need legislation, but Sinn Féin aren't going to look a gift horse in the mouth and say ok you can have that, they'll want something in return, they'll simply see it as a negotiation," said the senior Orangeman.

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"Opposing parades was a tactic for Sinn Féin, for us it was a principle and therefore it was always harder for us to deal with.

"Because of the Parades Commission they (Sinn Féin) have decided they don't need to protest any more, automatically there'd be a determination against us or restrictions on music.

"I think that Sinn Féin have moved on from parades politically, whereas we're still there and dealing with the legacy of the Parades Commission.

"The Parades Commission was brought in to appease the republican movement as part of the peace process, it's served its purpose in that respect but we've been left with the residue of that bad legislation," he said.

The Belfast Orangeman and Presbyterian minister, who took up the senior role in December last year following the death of Drew Nelson, said while previous initiatives to replace the commission have failed, he still believes a legal based solution can be found.

"There were initiatives I was involved in and either Sinn Féin wouldn't sign them off or they were taken over by another political reality, on one occasion the institution (Orange Order) did reject it and that was more about internal unionist politics that it was actually about the content of the document.

"The current legislation in skewed, it was designed for a particular purpose. If we buy into new legislation and it goes against us then so be it.

"We still believe that the law would judge on evidence and not emotion and that's why we would favour a legal based model, although we're not wedded to a particular model, all we want is a fair one with dialogue at the heart of it.

"We changed our policy about five or six years ago and said it was down to local people to decide and if they felt like talking they could go ahead, it was their decision", he said.

Rev Gibson said the Drumcree parade in Portadown remains a bone of contention for the Orange Order and is far from settled, despite being banned from Garvaghy Road for almost 20-years.

"If there is to be a shared society then some of those decisions have to be relooked at, the Drumcree one is a particularly difficulty.

"It's been said if we went back to Drumcree every nationalist in Ireland would rally to the cause, I don't think that's the case.

"What annoys us about Drumcree is for years we were told if we talked then there would be a solution, so there's no sanction for talking to residents and the institution want to talk but the nationalist residents group now won't talk to us.

"It's not resolved, it's far from resolved in the same way St Patrick's (Donegall Street) isn't resolved, the current determination of a drumbeat is sinister thing in my opinion, we offered hymns, there was never any problem in the past with the church and it something that can in my opinion can be easily resolved", Rev Gibson added.

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