Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

It's up to the marching umpire how this plays out

The scene at the Ardoyne interface in north Belfast as police remove protesters blocking the road ahead of an Orange Order march
The scene at the Ardoyne interface in north Belfast as police remove protesters blocking the road ahead of an Orange Order march 2010

The Sunday story from the City Hall was the sunshine, the big screen tennis and the big Belfast crowd watching Andy Murray's Wimbledon win.

But in these moments of high drama we don't see everything that is going on, sometimes when it's happening right under our noses.

There was another, quieter stage well away from all that public gaze and cheering and nailbiting as the Scot got close, then closer, to his historic win.

Inside the City Hall, both on Saturday and on Sunday, delegation talks took place -- a dialogue on the most difficult march on the summer calendar.

But there was no shout of game, set and match.

And by Friday and the Twelfth, the focus in chunks of this city will have switched from Wimbledon to Woodvale and Ardoyne, and to a feeder parade and protests that bring a huge and high cost security operation onto the stage.

How difficult a day it will be depends on the determination of the Parades Commission.

"Whatever decision they make will be wrong for one and right for the other," a talks insider told this newspaper.

The weekend dialogue -- important as it was -- came late.

And any kind of agreement was going to be a huge ask.

So, the outcome of deadlock is no surprise, and it moves the spotlight back onto the Commission, the marching referee.

This newspaper reported last Saturday concerns that one of the possibilities under consideration was no return march; what one source described as a "nuclear option".

The loyalist Winston Irvine said any such ruling "would be a disaster", but there are those who believe this fear was the motivation for the talks initiative -- something Irvine emphatically denies.

He was part of the weekend dialogue, as was the PUP leader Billy Hutchinson, Issac Andrews of the UPRG, Tommy Cheevers, Alfie McCrory and members of the three local Orange Lodges.

CARA -- Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association -- had five representatives in the talks, with senior republican Sean Murray and North Belfast MLAs Gerry Kelly (Sinn Fein) and Alban Maginness (SDLP) also involved. On both days the dialogue stretched over several hours.

It was as arduous as that Murray v Djokovic final.

It's understood that one suggestion floated was that the Orange lodges should voluntarily withdraw from the return leg of the parade; that this would give them the high ground.

But the idea was dismissed.

And so the marching season walks towards Ardoyne once again without agreement and with the Parades Commission stuck in the middle.

We should know their decision today.

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