Northern Ireland

Portadown Orange Lodge withdraws park prayers plan

Band outside St Patrick's Catholic church
Image caption The Parades Commission placed restrictions on the 25 August march following events on 12 July

Portadown Orange Lodge has withdrawn its application to hold a religious service in the town's public park on 8 June.

The event had been the subject of legal proceedings taken by a nationalist resident who lives near the park.

Earlier this month Craigavon council voted in favour of allowing the order to hold a 'prayers in the park' event on the same night as a mini-Twelfth.

The district lodge said it withdrew its application "with deep regret".

On Friday morning, a judge granted leave for a judicial review into the decision to allow the event in the park.

Community groups, including the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, had expressed concerns to the council about allowing the 8 June event to go ahead.

The coalition argued it would have allowed a parade in the area by the back door and without proper legal consideration.

Portadown Orangemen said that they would not be parading to the event and therefore they had no need for notification to the Parades Commission.

The DUP on Craigavon Borough Council have tabled a motion calling on the council to withdraw from a £7m project to regenerate the park.

The party has done so in response to opposition to the Orange Order prayer event.

The bulk of the money is from the EU and unionists say it depends on the park being a "shared space".

Sinn Fein have described the call as "political and economic lunacy".

Portadown Orange Order district master Darryl Hewitt said those taking part in the prayer event would not have been parading and would not have worn any Orange regalia.

"I was upfront from the very start that we were testing the shared space notion of the public park - the people's park - in Portadown," he said.

"We were not bluffing, we were genuinely looking to go to the park and hold this religious service, because we felt it would show that the money that was being earmarked to be spent on the park was going to be spent on a shared space.

"Sinn Fein, residents groups, they decided to take a different path."

'Sigh of relief'

Sinn Fein councillor Paul Duffy said there would be a "collective sigh of relief across all sections of the community" following the Orange Order's decision not to go ahead with the event.

"The Orange Order's actions in seeking to raise tensions in Portadown was a huge mistake," he said.

"However, the Orange Order's call for Craigavon Council to reject a £7m investment in the People's Park is also a mistake."

The MP for the area, the DUP's David Simpson, said the lodge's decision was "regrettable, but unavoidable".

"The nationalist and republican parties in Portadown have sent out a signal that they do not want the park to be a shared space," he said.

"The prospect of a public park where people from all backgrounds could express their religious or cultural identity proved too much for Sinn Fein, the SDLP and elements of the nationalist community."

Ulster Unionist councillor Colin McCusker said: "Their decision to abandon a religious service in the public park has not been taken easily, and it has been deeply disturbing for me to witness at first hand the amount of contempt displayed towards the unionist community by the vast array of community associations within the immediate vicinity of the park.

"They don't seem to want a unionist about the place."

Meanwhile, the Parades Commission has placed restrictions on the mini-Twelfth parade to take place on the same day as the park event.

The parade had been prohibited from assembling at Wilson Street as planned and is banned from any part of that street.

It is also not allowed from proceeding along Castle Street as it had intended.

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