15 May 1997 Edition

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Spirit of Drumcree in retreat

Joel Patton, militant leader of the Spirit of Drumcree Orange Order group, and Worshipful Master of Killyman Loyal Orange Lodge has signalled his intention to increase his efforts to dislodge the present leadership of the Orange Order, despite recent setbacks for his Spirit of Drumcree faction.

The issue splitting the Order is whether they should talk to nationalists to reach consensus on parade routes. Patton says ``there is no dignity in marching with the permission of nationalists,'' and prefers the option of not walking at all, rather than negotiate with nationalists. He is now in open dissension with the Order's leadership, particularly the Grand Master, Robert Saulters, who advocates discussion with residents' groups.

The result of the stand-offs, disruptions and roadblocks surrounding Drumcree has been that previously uncontested marches have become the centre of media attention, as with Dromore, a predominantly Catholic village in Tyrone. The tension surrounding Orange parades through the village on the Twelfth has been eased through the efforts of local clergy who secured agreement between the parties concerned.

It was this agreement which Patton sought to overturn last week in Benburb, despite the consensus reached on two marches, one in June, the other the Twelfth of July parade.

Patton sought to organise with local Orangemen against the agreement reached. Patton supporter Gerald Marshall, Deputy Grand Master of Dromore lodge, summed up the Patton position, ``It isn't what was in the agreement, it is the fact there was an agreement at all.''

The Tyrone County Grand Lodge however, voted 68-9 for its acceptance. Patton's predictable response was to vow to oppose any future deals, and to agitate for the removal of the Order's leadership, maintaining there is no necessity for Orangemen exercising their cultural identity to negotiate with residents.

He had been hopeful that the Dromore deal would be overturned, following the example of the Co Antrim Grand Lodge which backed his group's campaign against talks with residents' groups over Dunloy. He remains confident the Order will not dare to suspend him.

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