Village adjacent to Portadown in Northern Ireland. On the Sunday before the Twelfth of July every year, Portadown Orangemen hold a Somme memorial service in the Church of Ireland church there. According to their tradition, they march to the church from their Orange Hall in Portadown, and the march back to the hall along a different route, which takes them down the Garvaghy Road.
The Garvaghy Road, however, passes through an area in which the population is 95 per cent catholic/nationalist. These residents generally do not appreciate the passage of the parade outside their doors, as it is invariably an occasion of sectarian harassment. The Orange Order claims to be universally tolerant, but it is avowedly anti-catholicism and anti-ecumenism, and the event which the whole marching season commemorates, the Battle of the Boyne, is held as a symbol of the victory of protestantism over catholicism. Also, the parades attract many supporters from outside the Orange Order, many of whom are nakedly sectarian and bigoted.
Since 1995, the residents of the Garvaghy Road have objected to the parade passing through their area. This has led to an annual confrontation at Drumcree, as the Orangemen attempt to march from the church down the road. Although other parades in the North are contentious, Drumcree has proved the most intractable standoff. The reason for this is that no substantial negotiation has taken place. In 1996(?) an agreement was reached whereby a limited parade (Orangemen only) was allowed down the road, but the subsequent triumphalist behaviour of the Orangemen (including David Trimble and Ian Paisley) and their supporters set the scene for a further confrontation the following year. The barrier to negotiation is that there seems to be no common ground on which to base talks: the Portadown Orangemen will only talk once their absolute right to parade is conceded, and this is something the residents will not concede.
The march was blocked by the security forces in 1997, but level of public disorder which resulted, as well as the involvement of ruthless loyalist terrorist Billy Wright, led the RUC chief constable to believe that only by forcing the parade down the Garvaghy Road could the danger of widespread destruction be averted. He was proved spectacularly wrong, as the only effect forcing the march down the road had was to cause republicans to riot instead of loyalists. There was also a more profound and distrubing effect: the perception was created that the rule of law had been compromised. The RUC had effectively capitulated to the rioters.
Since 1998, the march has not been allowed down the Garvaghy Road. Each year there is a standoff, and sometimes attempts at talks, and a platform is provided for all sorts of bigotry and sectarianism. The Orangemen have adopted varying tactics, some years attempting to appear dignified, and this year (2000) calling for all-out protest and refusing to condemn the attendant violence. This year there are signs that the Portadown Orangemen have lost their support in the broad unionist community. This year, not even Ian Paisley or his DUP deemed it wise to be associated with the protests.