Once again we find ourselves standing in front of this barrier preventing us from completing our traditional route from Drumcree Parish Church back to our starting point in Carleton Street.
As you are all aware this part of our Parade and Church Service has not been completed since July 1998. However, I must inform you that it is not without the District Officers of this fine District putting in a lot of effort and time seeking a resolution to the impasse. We will not be walking away from this place and I can assure you that we will continue to work hard to achieve what we desire.
Also to the Officers and Brethren of Portadown District can I, on behalf of the District Officers, thank you for your continued support and help over the years.
We attempt to complete our parade each and every Sunday – a fact that most people in Northern Ireland are not aware of – and there is a presence on the Hill every night.
This has been the case since July 1998 when our late District Master Wor Bro Harold Gracey said that we would remain on protest until our rights have been restored.
Our resolve has not diminished over the weeks and months – no one should be in any doubt – Portadown District are in this for the long haul – we will not be deflected from seeking to achieve our objective.
One must ask the question “Why are still here this year?” After all the Chair of the Parades Commission stood at this place last Drumcree Sunday and stated that she would have the situation resolved by December.
We have met the Chair on at least three occasions this past year and in the end she admitted that they were not prepared to initiate any sanctions against the GRRC for their prevarication. Not only that but the Parades Commission have allowed the GRRC to introduce a pre-condition to mediation, namely that we must withdraw Obins Street from our outward route.
You can imagine the outcry – from both the Parades Commission and the public – if we tried to introduce a pre-condition to mediation.
The spokesperson of the GRRC even attended the Parades Commission meeting last Wednesday – I am sure he was not even asked about the illegal parades he and his fellow travellers have taken part in overt he past 18 months. How can the Parades Commission listen to any comments from a man who is on public record as saying that he will never apply to a British quango for permission to walk his streets?
The sooner the Parades Commission is dissolved the better – tomorrow would do!
It will be interesting to see what comes of the new arrangements for Parading in Northern Ireland. Portadown District is still reserving judgment on the new arrangements. When the new body comes into being you can be sure that the first issue to be dealt with is our parade from this place back to Carleton Street, whether that be in January 2011 or any Sunday between that and Drumcree Sunday 2011.
What about the Police? At a recent meeting with Senior Police officers in the area we were informed that if we did not submit an 11/1 for this parade then we would be arrested. Why has no one been spoken to regarding illegal parades that take place around Northern Ireland.
The stock answer is that the parade took place in a different command area of the Police, but we ask the question “Has anyone been arrested for taking part in the illegal parade on Easter Sunday this year in Armagh?” Of course not!
It seems to be that there is one law for the Nationalist/Republican community and another for the Unionist community. Surely this situation cannot and must not continue. Our politicians must see that the current situation is untenable and they must highlight the inherent inequalities at every available opportunity.
Speaking of politicians we should offer our congratulations to Bro S Anderson who is taking over from Wor Bro D Simpson as an MLA for the area. We offer Sidney our best wishes and look forward to working with him in as close a manner as we have, and - I am sure – will continue to do so with David.
As you are aware the notification for this Parade was only made last Sunday. Portadown District thought long and hard about whether to submit a form or not. The reasons we did so are already in the public domain and do not need rehearsed again.
Our basic instincts are to be a law-abiding people, but the authorities must realise that they can only push people so far or people will resent what is happening to them and turn people into law breakers. That would serve no purpose and it is not what we want.
We must never forget those people who keep the protest going on the Hill night by night throughout the year. To Arlene, David and to all the others a sincere thanks is due from Portadown District. There have been incidents on the Hill over the past years, but the resolve of those who maintain the protest has not diminished – in fact there is not a night goes past when the teapot is not on! Make sure that before you leave today you visit the hillside café and avail of the food on offer.
According to the determination we are to leave this place by 2.30pm today. However, on behalf of myself and the District Officers, may I request that you remain with us here as we do not intend leaving by the time an unelected quango has told us to leave by.