Protestant clergy are involved in a backstage effort to broker a last minute agreement ahead of the controversial Covenant Centenary parade in Belfast in seven days’ time.
With a 500-strong protest planned near St Patrick’s Catholic Church on Donegall Street, the initiative is aimed at de-escalating tension. There are suggestions that Presbyterian clergy would publicly invite representatives of the Orange Order and Carrick Hill residents into a facilitated conversation.
But a source revealed a decision “not to go down the public route”. A number of sources believe this is a mistake, with one commenting: “The Orange won’t shift if its private diplomacy. They only move when they have to.”
It’s understood the idea behind the plan is to demonstrate “mutual respect”. An invitation from Presbyterian clergy is considered more likely to succeed than a demand from Sinn Fein or the residents group for march organisers to engage in face-to-face talks.
Sources believe if an agreement can be reached within this framework, then there will be an opportunity to scale down the planned opposition to the parade. As things stand, there is serious concern about the size of a planned protest, and how it could be controlled.
First Minister Peter Robinson has met with senior members of the Grand Orange Lodge in Belfast, along with other unionist MLAs and representatives of the North and West Belfast Parades Forum. Following the meeting the Order’s county grand chaplain in Belfast, Mervyn Gibson, said it would not enter into talks with Carrick Hill residents over next week’s parade.
A republican source said that all residents were demanding was “respect”.
The stand-off continues over the question of face-to-face dialogue, and some believe a church initiative is the way through.
“It makes it easier for them (the Orange Order) if it’s not coming from Sinn Fein or the residents,” a source conceded.
There are also concerns about supporters following the September 29 march into Donegall Street, and both Sinn Fein and residents are understood to have raised this with the Parades Commission.
The initiative being worked on in the background is seen by some as the only possible means of success.
A behind-the-scenes plan by Protestant clergy to try and reduce tensions involves:
- A ‘facilitated conversation’ which aims to put representatives from each side in the same room.
- An invitation to that meeting coming from Protestant clergy.
- An aim of reaching an agreement on the march.