East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell has described a peaceful protest in Dungiven to an Orange parade as “a retrograde step for community relations”.
Around 100 people turned up to protest the Orange parade in Dungiven on Sunday morning. Mr Campbell said: “Each year in Dungiven local Orangemen walk to one of the Churches in the town for an Annual Church Service. This has been done without contention or protest for a number of years. There are no bands, no banners and no flags and numbers of around 50 - 80 Orangemen for a Church parade that takes place on a Sunday morning at 9.30am when there are very few people on the main street. The parade lasts approximately ten minutes to arrive for the Service.
“I was made aware just a few days ago that there had been a late protest notification lodged for the Sunday service yesterday. The Parades Commission then met to consider the matter. They permitted both parade and protest to take place despite the late notification of the protest. Among those present at the protest were at least four Sinn Féin Councillors.
“Thankfully the protest was peaceful, but a brief attempt was made to block the parade from peacefully processing along the Main Street as it has done for many years.
“It should be remembered that many of the Protestant community have had to move out of the town over a period of years, and a memorial to murder has been located right beside one of the Protestant Churches on the Main Street, this alongside the offensive banners and murals that are also on the Main Street 365 days every year hardly make for a concept of a ‘shared space’.
“While community relations have been improving in recent years these activities along with the protests are a retrograde step.
“I said last year that it was a new low for parade protesters to object to such a non-contentious parade. It has been the case elsewhere that music, bands, banners or flags were supposed to be the reason for the protest now when there have been none of these for years at this parade, protestors come forward for the second consecutive year and object to the very presence of Orangemen going to Church, to make matters worse they also tried to block the road yesterday.
“Nationalist representatives, (including Sinn Féin, who are the largest Party in the Dungiven area) need to make it clear what their view is towards any public expression of Orange religious identity. As the area’s MP I submitted representations on the issue once again this year, I hope that other Unionist representatives have done likewise and will also release details of their representations as I am doing with this statement.”
In his letter to the Parades Commission, the DUP MP wrote:
“I am writing in support of the above parade which you have informed me about on 3rd June 2014 and is proposed to be held on Sunday 8thth June 2014 commencing at 10:00am and ending at 12:05pm.
“This is a low key parade involving Members of the local Orange Lodge Dungiven LOL 2036 who have paraded for many years to their annual Church Service in the town with no adverse impact of any kind whatsoever.
“There is no reason why the proposed route of the parade should not proceed as in previous years. I trust that the Commission will not give approval to a belated application of protest by people who would have known this parade was scheduled to take place 12 months ago, (as this is an annual service held on this date every year).
“On previous occasions this has been one of the briefest, most innocuous parades imaginable. There have been no bands, no music and no banners. Given the change in religious demographics of Dungiven’s population in recent decades, opposition to this Church parade and Service can only serve to worsen community tensions among the town’s small Protestant population.
“Acceptance of this 10 minute parade to a Church Service, and similar return journey, will send the message that tolerance and respect are the hallmarks of present day Northern Ireland.
“I trust the aforementioned issues will be taken into account when making your determination regarding this parade.
“Gregory Campbell MP MLA.”