By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, has launched an initiative to resolve the Orange Order Drumcree siege ahead of this year’s marching season.
He wrote on Friday to all elected representatives in the Portadown area, Assembly members and councilors, inviting them to a meeting in Craigavon, Co. Armagh, that was to have been held Tuesday to discuss the issue.
The invitations were welcomed by the SDLP and Sinn Fein, along with representatives of nationalists living on the Garvaghy Road, but have been spurned by the Orange Order and some unionists.
Trimble’s move came the day after hundreds of Portadown Orangemen rallied at Drumcree to mark 300 day of protest at having been refused permission by the Parades Commission to march down the nationalist Garvaghy Road last July.
The Parades Commission chairman, Alistair Graham, has warned that time is running out to find a resolution that would avert another crisis at Drumcree this year.
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He called on all sides to work to engage as quickly as possible or a decision would be imposed on them.
Breandan MacCionnaith, spokesman for the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, welcomed the move, which he said marked an apparent change of heart by Trimble, who has repeatedly refused to meet his own constituents to discuss the crisis.
"This is an obvious and logical step for Mr. Trimble to take, both in his role as first minister designate and as MP for the area," MacCionnaith said.
The Orange Order’s County Armagh grand master, Denis Watson, and the DUP mayor of Craigavon, Mervyn Carrick, said they would not attend the meeting. "I will not be attending a meeting convened by the MP for Upper Bann, who has sat back for nine months and done absolutely nothing about Drumcree," Watson said.
Upper Bann SDLP Assembly member Brid Rodgers welcomed the meeting and said she would be attending. "I welcome the fact that David Trimble has taken this initiative to get people from across the political spectrum together to try to resolve this issue."