Sunday Life

Drumcree banned!
...but this time by the Orange Order

By Alan Murray
28 June 2004

THIS year's controversial Drumcree parade could be axed - by the ORANGE ORDER!

The incredible move - to stop Portadown No 1 District Lodge parading to Drumcree Parish Church next Sunday - was approved by the order's all-powerful Grand Lodge at a special meeting last week.

And only a technical hitch prevented a motion suspending the entire Portadown district being implemented after delegates voted overwhelmingly to censure it for sending officers to a Parades Commission-sponsored forum in South Africa.

It's understood that the Grand Lodge voted 75 votes to two in support of a motion backed by Grand Master Robert Saulters to suspend Portadown District and stop it parading over the summer.

But before the suspension could be endorsed, Armagh County Grand Lodge first had to hear the complaint against Portadown under internal Orange Order rules.

The move has stunned the Orange Order in Portadown, which was unaware of the move to suspend them.

It's understood the order's Grand Master, Robert Saulters, led the move against the district during Thursday's special delegate meeting, after reading newspaper reports about the South Africa visit in February.

Those reports alleged contacts between Portadown District officers and members of the Parades Commission.

His backing for the suspension was endorsed by an overwhelming majority at the meeting - and is certain to split the order down the middle.

Between now and next weekend's parade, efforts will be made to convene a special meeting of the Armagh County Grand Lodge to hear the complaint against Portadown District and forward a decision to Grand Lodge.

If the County Armagh Grand Lodge endorses the view of Grand Lodge, Portadown District could only parade to Drumcree if it defies both its county lodge and Grand Lodge.

No officers from Portadown District were prepared to comment last night on the extraordinary development.

Deputy District Master David Burrows and District Secretary Nigel Dawson attended the February conference in South Africa, but didn't meet representatives from the nationalist Garvaghy Road Residents Association, which refused to participate.

The official policy of Grand Lodge is to have no dealings with the Parades Commission on any issue - although all lodges, districts and county lodges file standard '11/1' forms to the commission seeking permission to parade.

Since 1995, the annual Drumcree parade has been banned from returning to Portadown town centre via Garvaghy Road, except for one year - 1996 - when then Chief Constable Hugh Annesley reversed his decision because of fears of widespread public disorder.

For the last three years, the scale of protest at Drumcree has been greatly reduced, with virtually no trouble last year.

A ban is expected to be imposed again by the Parades Commission this year.

But leading Orangemen are amazed Grand Lodge has moved against the Portadown District, effectively making the Parades Commission's ruling irrelevant.

One leading Orangeman - who didn't want to be named - told us: "If you had told me that the hierarchy of the institution was planning this, I wouldn't have believed it - nor would the membership, nor would the Orangemen participating in the Whiterock Parade.

"There was no hint that Thursday's meeting was being specifically called to achieve this.

"It is incredible to think that the hierarchy is about to shoot the institution in the foot.

"They are on the brink of making Portadown No 1 District go away - something Brendan McKenna and Sinn Fein couldn't achieve."

Sunday Life contacted a spokeswoman for Mr Saulters yesterday, but she refused to comment.

She would only say: "Grand Lodge business is conducted in secret and should remain secret.

"The Grand Master makes no comment on Grand Lodge matters."

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