Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Ardoyne parade: 'We are at boiling point... this sends out wrong message'

Loyalists at the protest camp at Twaddell Avenue in north Belfast

For 12 months they have been at the heart of the toxic parading row. News of the decision by the parading watchdog to stop the Ligoniel lodges completing the return route for the second year in a row spread within minutes at the north Belfast interface.

Based just yards from the contested stretch of road, the Twaddell protest camp has become the hub of loyalist protests.

In the wake of last year's ruling, protesters occupied the publicly-owned ground and vowed not to move until the Parades Commission determination was reversed.

Fast forward one year and the same figures were present at the site yesterday as they took dozens of phone calls regarding the decision.

Supporters from the area began to gather almost immediately, many aghast at what they perceived to be a grave injustice.

There was anger, disappointment and frustration but at the same time a universal insistence that those feelings must not boil over into a repeat of the violent scenes in the area which brought shame on Northern Ireland last summer.

Days of serious loyalist rioting broke out last Twelfth when marchers were stopped at Woodvale Parade, about 400m from the Ardoyne shops.

More than 70 PSNI officers, backed by mutual aid police from the UK, were injured enforcing the ruling and millions of pounds lost to the economy.

Since then the entire country has also shouldered the financial burden of policing the camp and nightly protests, with costs having topped £10m.

Whether that figure will double in the next year due to their continued existence is not yet known, with talks already under way behind the scenes as to what move those involved will make now.

Gerald Solinas, a spokesman for the camp and member of the UPRG, said he was "shocked" and "disgusted" by the ruling.

"We've done everything they have asked of us," he said. "I'm not sure where we go from here.

"This will have wide-reaching ramifications across Northern Ireland. You can't have a democracy run on the threat of violent extremism. The Secretary of State should step in and overturn this decision."

Protesters have maintained a 24-hour presence at the site on Twaddell Avenue and high-profile visitors have included US diplomat Dr Meghan O'Sullivan and comedian Russell Brand.

So far, nightly protests have been peaceful but due to their location they and the camp require constant police attention.

Not all of the huge costs are linked to monitoring those involved in the protests – dissident republicans used automatic weapons in an attempt to murder police officers in the area in December and banners and flags have been attacked by nationalists.

As Mr Solinas spoke to the Belfast Telegraph, one motorist shouted "up the IRA" as he passed. "That's what we are working with," said another protester who gave his name as Colin.

He was unequivocal when asked if he would be walking away. "The protest will go on, I'll certainly be here," he said.

"I'll be staying, nothing has changed. You have to look at the bigger picture. If this parade fails they are not going to be content with that.

"They will take it to Clifton Street, they will take it to Newtownards Road, we've seen bits and pieces like that happening already.

"When you get rewarded through violence you are not going to stop."

Isaac Andrews, who also represents the UPRG, said yesterday's decision was widely considered as a slap in the face.

"Considering all the work that went on over the past 11 months; the Orange Order, the community, the marching bands and unionism entered into talks to try and plan for parades in this area and for that to be thrown out by the Parades Commission due to threats of republican violence is a shame and sends out the wrong message needed today in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Why would anybody enter into talks again? The Orange Order and the unionist community have compromised and compromised again until there's nothing left.

"The unionist community is at boiling point and the Secretary of State needs to get a grip of the situation.

"Nobody wants to see any violence on the streets but the perception is republicans can use violence and get their way."

Questions & Answers

Q. What did the Orange Order and unionists want?

A. As it did last year, the commission had already given permission, with restrictions, for Orangemen to parade down the disputed section of the Crumlin Road on the morning of July 12. The Order intended to march the same stretch of road later that day, on the return leg of the march.

Q. Why do they feel so strongly about it?

A. The Order and unionists say they have a right to freedom of assembly and expression.

These rights, they say, include the freedom to make the six-minute walk along the Crumlin Road, one of Belfast's arterial routes. They say the north Belfast dispute has wide-reaching implications for their ability to express their culture.

Q. Why do nationalist residents' groups and politicians oppose the parade?

A. They say it infringes the rights of the nationalist community in the Ardoyne area and along the Crumlin Road.

The commission was told the parade "invokes a history and experience of intense fractured inter-community relations".

Q. What did the Parades Commission decide?

A. Restrictions on the morning parade had already been placed.

It is the evening parade that has been prohibited from passing along the road. Marchers will again be stopped at Woodvale Parade. They must leave the area by 7.30 that evening.

Q. What were its reasons for the restrictions?

A. The Government-appointed commission cited the potential for public disorder and negative impact on community relations among its reasons for preventing the parade.

It said it issued its determination after a failure by those involved to resolve the issue. The commission said the 2014 decision was made independently of that of last year.

Q. What happens next in this dispute?

A. Unionists have pulled out of talks on flags, parades and the past. But we still don't know details of their "graduated response", which could threaten the already faltering institutions at Stormont.

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