1,000 days and £18m in policing costs later, the Orange Order is still defiant at Camp Twaddell
One thousand days after it started its protest the Orange Order last night said its determination to see its Ligoniel lodges march home past Ardoyne shops remains undimmed.
The long-running protest has cost the public purse around £18m in policing and other costs.
A crowd of several hundred supporters - many in Orange regalia - gathered at Twaddell Avenue last night to mark the milestone.
They cheered as they heard Belfast county grand master George Chittick hit out once again at the Parades Commission, whose members he described as "muppets".
"Our parading culture is a hostage of fortune to republicans - this situation cannot and must not be allowed to continue," he said.
"We may have different opinions at times on how that may be achieved, but the one thing that unites us is to see the wrong decisions of the Parades Commission put right.
"The only thing that hinders that objective is when we take our focus off where the problem lies.
"It lies with intransigent, sectarian republicanism and legislation that is a protesters' charter."
He called on unionist political leaders to explain what they proposed to do to safeguard the right to march.
"To all our local unionist political parties who started this campaign with us, I would urge you to spell out clearly before the coming election what steps you will take to ensure change; what pressure you will put on the Westminster administration to change, and what sanctions you will take against republicans and nationalists when they police our culture through the farce that is the Parades Commission?"
And the Orange chief sent a strong message of continued defiance to the authorities, and a rallying cry to the protest supporters.
"A fundamental change to parading legislation is not an option for the future but a requirement," he said.
"We will continue to agitate and protest until fairness and equality for all is achieved, or as we put it, civil and religious liberty for all and special privileges for none. The campaign will continue. The message is clear from the gathering here this evening - let them home."
The supporters heard a message of encouragement from Christopher McGurk, the chairman of the Regimental Blues, a group of Scottish loyalists who travelled to Belfast to support the Camp Twaddell protest. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr McGurk said there was some disillusionment and frustration at the lack of support for the Camp Twaddell protest from politicians.
"If everyone moves in the right direction, the parade will go up that road," he said.
"Regardless of what I believe, this camp is going nowhere.
"The community is saying enough's enough."
One supporter, Margaret (who declined to give her surname), felt that a stand had to be made in defence of loyalist culture.
"From the 'Black Friday' Agreement I feel my culture has just been being chipped away, eroded," she claimed.
She added the protest was a human rights issue.
"If we'd been black or Muslim or any ethnic minority there would have been an outcry. This is a human rights issue more than anything."
The PUP's Billy Hutchinson was among the crowd.
"Nobody ever thought that this protest would last a thousand days," he said.
"It's a thousand days too long. We need to get this situation resolved, and I hope that we can have it resolved this year.
"All sides march in this society; we need to get this sorted."
After the speeches the crowd sang God Save The Queen before drifting off into the cold spring night.