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Peter Hadden

Drumcree Countdown

Northern Ireland’s Long Week

(July 1999)

From The Socialist [UK], 9 July 1999.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

For the fifth year running people across Northern Ireland have had to brace themselves for the now annual confrontation at Drumcree. Whatever the outcome this year, it will be achieved by coercion, not by agreement. The underlying issue will not be resolved. Next year we could be going through the same thing all over again as the countdown takes place to Drumcree VI. Of course there are genuine issues and real rights involved on both sides. The Orange Order, while a reactionary and sectarian institution, does have a right to march. Residents also have a right not to be curfewed and hemmed into their houses and a right to object to parades which they find offensive.

But, with a will to resolve the problem, these conflicting rights could be reconciled. That this has not been done is down to the tact that those on both sides who have been whipping this issue up have an agenda which goes far beyond the parades question.

To the sectarian intransigents on both sides Drumcree is about maintaining and deepening the sectarian divide. It is about territory, about marking out streets, estates, villages and even whole towns as “loyalist” or “nationalist” and therefore as no-go areas for the “other side”. It is also about wrecking the peace process and bringing down the Good Friday Agreement.

Most ordinary people are mightily sick of the by now ritual confrontations at Drumcree and elsewhere. The underlying attitude to Drumcree is not shown by those who make for Portadown each July but by the tens of thousands who head in the opposite direction, to the airports, ferries and cross-border roads to get away at this time.


A sense of proportion is needed on the issue and on the rights which are being debated. There is a genuine sense of injustice on both sides, which has been added to by what has happened in recent years.

But this must be weighed alongside the greater right of the majority of ordinary people, Catholic and Protestant, not to be dragged along the road to a Kosova-style civil war by the sectarian intransigence of either side.

The only way out is through face-to-face meetings and genuine negotiation. The Parades Commission is a barrier to such negotiation and should be scrapped. Why give ground in talks when you feel that disagreement might result in a Parades Commission ruling in your favour?

But would talks between Residents Groups and the Orange Order achieve anything given that they appear to be poles apart? The only way that real negotiations will take place will be under pressure from the broader community, from working class people on both sides. And, in turn, it is only if this pressure is maintained that these negotiations will succeed.


Given that the Socialist Party are calling for a negotiated settlement to Drumcree we do not want to put forward a complete prescription of what this should be. However, after five years and no progress we think it is time to table a set of proposals which we feel might offer the basis of an agreement and around which negotiations could take place.

These are:

Beyond this there should be an initiative to bring together representatives of community organisations alongside trade union work place representatives from the Portadown area to discuss steps to halt the sectarian intimidation and make all parts of the town, including the town centre, open and equally accessible to all.

A settlement along these lines could be reached, if both sides were willing. However there can be little confidence that either the leadership of the Portadown Orange Order or of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition will move in this direction.

It will only come if there is concerted pressure from working-class communities across the north. When it comes to the balancing of rights, the right of the working class to say “enough is enough, sort this out”, has to be placed at the top of the scale. This is the only way to solve Drumcree and the other disputed parades.

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