ANOTHER VIEW: Orange is not offensive

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The Independent Online
At the beginning of the 19th century the rector of the parish of Drumcree invited the local Orangemen to come to his church for a service on the eve of the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. And for the past 189 years they have walked through the countryside to the church and returned by the direct road to the town of Portadown. There was never any trouble because they were walking though a solidly Unionist area, until 25 years ago when housing estates were built alongside the road. They were originally mixed, but gradually the Catholics drove out the Protestants.

That is why there was a sense of grievance and also of determination yesterday, a feeling of resentment that a normal, harmless long-standing tradition was somehow unacceptable and offensive. It was particularly upsetting when we finally met on Tuesday morning to see the police Land Rovers parked along the road like a tunnel for the Orangemen to walk though - as if the sight of an Orangeman is an offensive thing. This assault on our cultural identity had gone too far.

There was a tremendous feeling of cheerfulness among those who found themselves "besieged" for two days at Drumcree. In the course of the peace process a feeling has grown of depression and despair, of unease and suspicion that great concessions are planned for Irish nationalists. The framework document talks about cross-border bodies with sweeping powers - but it is all so vague. Suddenly, with this issue the miasma lifts. We organised a rally on Monday night to demonstrate the support for our insistence on following our traditional route. Local television channels failed to broadcast details of the rally, but still a huge crowd turned out, in good spirits. People felt "at last there is something we can do".

This is completely irrelevant to the peace process. The only connection is that I have reason to suspect that republican elements were in the forefront of organising opposition to our walk. Sinn Fein may have been looking for a confrontation but it didn't get one, which is good.

The column that goes through Portadown includes many ex-servicemen. They may wear their Orange sashes, but it is very much a British occasion. Old soldiers walking in the countryside, displaying their medals - who does that threaten? Yesterday was about standing up for normal patterns of life, normal patterns of activity. If we had lost the right to walk down the Garvaghy Road then where would we have been able to walk? We have heard a lot in recent months about equality of esteem. Yet we feel that our culture and identity is being crushed, while we have Irish culture rammed down our throats. Equality of esteem will not be a reality if the traditions of the Ulster British people are regarded as of no importance alongside "Irishness".

The writer is the Ulster Unionist MP for Upper Bann.