Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Optimism before Parades Commission ruling on Ardoyne Orange march, but loyalist hopes dashed

Orangemen during a stand-off with police on Woodvale Road, Belfast, close to the Ardoyne, after their protest march was re-routed by the Parades Commission
Orangemen during a stand-off with police on Woodvale Road, Belfast, close to the Ardoyne, after their protest march was re-routed by the Parades Commission
DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds

The first hint of the likely decision by the Parades Commission came in a call around 10.30am yesterday.

"The thinking is it's going to be a no," the source told me. "That's what the smoke signals are signalling," he added.

This was an observation from outside the commission's decision-making process, and one that proved correct.

An hour later another source told me the decision was no march, and then came the confirmation in the commission's determination at around noon.

This was not a routine application to complete that march in north Belfast passing Ardoyne, along a parade route that has been blocked since July 12 last year.

But rather, for the local lodges and the loyalist community in that part of the city, this was a last roll of the dice – seen as a last chance within this marching calendar to complete that controversial walk.

And there was both hope and expectation.

"Very optimistic," was the response from one senior loyalist close to the background discussions that were going on. "Loyalism needs a breather," he told me.

Last week another source watching developments told this newspaper: "Within certain elements of the Orange Order and loyalism there's an expectation that the parade will be allowed up."

That confident mood filtered out into the Twittersphere.

But, from another source, there was a warning that any decision to allow the parade to pass Ardoyne would be both "irresponsible" and "highly reckless".

"There are very serious concerns about the floating of the idea and the way the idea is being canvassed and who's involved," he told me.

With the ruling of the Parades Commission, the hope and expectation in the loyalist community evaporated.

We know there have been talks involving church leaders, politicians, representatives of the local lodges and representatives of the nationalist residents group CARA.

But those talks didn't produce a local agreement and, once again, left the ruling to the Parades Commission.

There was a round of final meetings on Tuesday.

And the high stakes of this decision were confirmed in the make-up of a joint unionist/loyalist delegation including the DUP leader Peter Robinson, MP Nigel Dodds, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson and Ian McLaughlin of the UPRG.

Dodds tweeted that they had been to see the commission.

Then there was the wait until the official confirmation of the ruling at noon yesterday.

No march – and no change in the determination made before July 12 last year.

But something and someone had raised expectations of a different outcome. Who and why are the unanswered questions. And, as another marching season approaches, this place still walks in different directions.

According to the Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, the political talks on flags, parades and the past are going nowhere.

And, even if they did make progress on this issue, it would be about changing the structure and name of the decision-making process, not attitudes on the parade ground.

New Chief Constable George Hamilton might be in post before July 12 – watching another summer with his officers stuck in the middle in those places where marches and protests meet.

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