State Papers

Orange Order 'charm offensive' in run up to Drumcree 1997

Brian Kennaway, the author of The Orange Order at his book launch with special guest The Rt. Hon David Trimble in 2014. Picture by Bernie Brown
Éamon Phoenix

THE Orange Order was subjected to a virtual ‘charm offensive’ in the run up to Drumcree 1997.

On April 10, two leading Co Armagh Orangemen involved in the dispute, Denis Watson and Rev William Bingham, met NIO officials to discuss the Anglo-Irish Secretariat and the role of the Irish government around Orange parades.

Peter Bell from the NIO told Orangemen "the Irish had no influence in the operational decision of the chief constable in respect of the banning or permitting the parade at Drumcree or anywhere else".

He noted afterwards: "The effect of this on [the Orange representatives] was difficult to gauge. Bingham made the point that it was not the effects of consultation which was an issue – it was the fact that Dublin was consulted at all which remained neuralgic."

British Ambassador to Ireland Veronica Sutherland later invited Orange Order representatives for dinner in Dublin.

Grand Master Robert Salters attended along Armagh County Grand Master Denis Watson, Fermanagh Deputy County Master Roy Kells and Rev Brian Kennaway.

On the Irish side were minister Joan Burton from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Liam Kavanagh TD, Senator Pascal Mooney, and Sean O hUiginn from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The ambassador later noted O hUiginn had been "on his best behaviour and Mrs Burton (did) much to keep in check Senator Mooney’s sometimes barely disguised hostility".

Mrs Burton warned "that Sinn Féin would seek to exploit Drumcree and other parades to portray the Orange Order in the worst possible light and that the Order should do all they could to avoid this was heard sympathetically".

Mr Watson said he was hopeful a meeting with Fr Eamon Stack of the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Group would take place.

The Drumcree parade went ahead in 1997, sparking five days of rioting.

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State Papers