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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 June 2007, 05:48 GMT 06:48 UK
'No need for Drumcree violence'
By Niall Blaney
BBC News Website

Reverend John Pickering
The minister has been in the parish for 23 years
A resolution to the controversial standoff at Drumcree could have been achieved without violence, the church's rector has said.

The Reverend John Pickering is set to retire from the County Armagh parish after 23 years.

It was the scene of major disturbances after Orange Order members were banned from walking down Portadown's mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road.

The Reverend Pickering is set to write a book about his experiences.

Since 1998, the homeward route of the Orange parade has been blocked by the security forces, following a determination by the Parades Commission.

The parade has been marked by serious violence in the past, but it has passed off peacefully in the last three years.

'Keep church open'

Mr Pickering said he had viewed Drumcree as "a cameo of Northern Ireland's difficulties and divisions".

"I was able to tell from an early stage that this was going to come to a head - these things always come to a head," he told the BBC News Website.

"That's what really happened here in 1995 - it was the visible manifestation of the divisions over many years."

In 1999, the minister decided to keep the church doors open to the Orangemen despite a Church of Ireland motion decreeing the doors should be closed.

Orangemen have staged peaceful protests at Drumcree in the last two years
Parades at Drumcree have been peaceful for the past three years

He said the political progress achieved with the restoration of devolution augured well for Drumcree.

"How can you have what is happening at the assembly, and have the situation at Drumcree - the two do not go together."

However, he said he believed there could have been a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

"It is something that should not have happened at all, but the way difficulties and divisions were going, there was going to be some sort of visible manifestation - but it should not have turned out to be violent.

"Violence only holds up resolution."

Mr Pickering, who is 66, said he had decided to retire from the Church of Ireland parish after his wife Olive died at Easter last year.

"We were a team in the parish for 22 years and I will miss her an awful lot," he said.

Commission rules out Orange march
30 Jun 06 |  Northern Ireland
Drumcree parade passes peacefully
10 Jul 05 |  Northern Ireland
Drumcree security 'scaled down'
08 Jul 05 |  Northern Ireland

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