Belfast Telegraph

Ardoyne issue too big for us to solve, says parades body

By Chris Kilpatrick

The Parades Commission has said deep-seated sectarian issues around a hugely contentious north Belfast march have become too big for it to resolve.

There was a furious backlash from unionists after the parades watchdog again banned an Orange Order march from a return route along the Crumlin Road this Twelfth.

The determination has left the power-sharing administration at Stormont in serious doubt after all the unionist parties walked out of a new political talks process in protest.

First Minister Peter Robinson said the Stormont power-sharing institutions were at risk because of the ruling.

Mr Robinson said: "The institutions have been put under threat by the behaviour of the Parades Commission and those who threaten the Parades Commission," Mr Robinson said.

"It's up to us to seek a peaceful response and we trust that, along the line, people will recognise the importance of having respect and tolerance for the cultural expression of our tradition and that violence will no longer be allowed to be the determining factor when decisions are being taken."

The DUP and Ulster Unionists said their action against the ruling by the adjudication body was the first stage of a "graduated response" – a move criticised by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

In its ruling the commission cited potential for public disorder and a negative impact on community relations among its reasons for preventing the contentious July 12 evening parade proceeding along the Crumlin Road, which is adjacent to the nationalist Ardoyne area.

The body said the onus was on the Orange Order to examine a "less strict adherence to tradition in this particularly difficult parading area".

It said it was vital a fresh approach through new structures was taken to the powder-keg July 12 dispute in north Belfast if a resolution was to be achieved.

"The deep-seated issues impacting upon parading on the Crumlin Road are complex issues of culture, the past and identity," it said.

"Based on the evidence of individuals and groups from these areas, it is the view of the commission that these wider issues influencing attitudes to parading need to be addressed by a structured, managed, cohesive approach which provides a framework into which whole communities can contribute, have their voice heard and formulate creative responses."

The commission said the current approach to the dispute was "insufficient to address the societal, historic and political issues impacting upon this parade".

It added that a wider approach was needed to tackle the long-running issue.

"The commission is willing to play a role in establishing a wider process that is charged with tackling the outworkings of this parade," it added.

"However, by necessity, the commission's involvement must be sufficiently distant to retain the independence required to discharge its statutory duties of adjudication and decision-making."

There were widespread appeals for calm in the wake of the decision amid fears tensions could spill into a repeat of last year's street violence.

Chief Constable George Hamilton said police had been planning for several months for "every eventuality" and vowed to uphold the commission's determination.

The commission recognised that talks had been ongoing in the area since last July, but noted they had failed to deliver a resolution.

Furious Orange Order leaders described the determination as "preposterous" and accused the body of bowing to the threat of republican violence.

"Such reckless action comes despite the prolonged and genuine efforts by the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast, and primarily the Ligoniel lodges, to defuse tensions concerning loyal order parades in this part of the city over the past 12 months, including face-to-face discussions with nationalist residents," a spokesman said.

"We are also mindful of continuing intransigent opposition by republicans to loyal order parades in other areas of the province, including the long-standing situation at Drumcree.

"Any violence will only undermine our cause. We would reiterate that anyone wishing to protest against this outrageous decision must do so in a peaceful manner." In recent years, when the parade was given permission to pass Ardoyne, republicans rioted.

When it was banned last year, loyalists rioted for several days.

Protesters have manned a protest camp at the volatile interface ever since, requiring a policing operation costing around £10m.

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