Belfast Telegraph

Ardoyne protesters vent rage at Belfast priest and Sunday Life reporter

By Rebecca Black and Lisa Smyth

A priest and a journalist were subjected to sinister threats by members of a republican residents' group.

The incident took place in Ardoyne in north Belfast after one of Northern Ireland's most controversial parades passed off peacefully.

Orangemen were granted permission to march past the flashpoint after a landmark deal ended a three-year dispute between the loyal orders and nationalist residents.

Despite widespread support for the agreement to end the stand-off, members of the hardline Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) protested against the parade.

They then vented their fury at parish priest Fr Gary Donegan as well as Sunday Life journalist Christopher Woodhouse. Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly was also heckled by members of GARC.

The group held protests on Friday evening, sparking a huge policing operation involving 300 officers, and again early on Saturday morning after the parade.

GARC has bitterly opposed the historic deal brokered between the Orange Order and the Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents Association (Cara).

The deal allowed the return parade by three Orange lodges along the Crumlin Road past the Ardoyne shops.

It was agreed the bands would only play hymns as they passed the disputed section at Ardoyne, while the lodges would limit the number of banners on display.

A protest camp in the nearby Twaddell area, where loyalists have staged weekly protests which have cost in excess of £20m to police, is also being dismantled. In return, Cara did not request Parades Commission permission for a protest. The lodges have agreed not to apply for any more return parades on the Twelfth until a wider agreement on the issue is reached.

Cara will not protest at the lodges' already-permitted outward parade on the morning of the Twelfth. A community forum including representatives of Cara, which has been supported by Sinn Fein, and the loyal orders, will also be convened with the aim of improving relations in the area.

The deal was endorsed by local politicians, the British and Irish Governments, and Church and community leaders.

Spencer Beattie, Orange Order county grand master, said there was a sense of "relief".

He said: "The agreement reached did not come easy, but it is founded on mutual tolerance and respect.

"Going forward, we trust this positive atmosphere will prevail regarding future parades in north Belfast, including future return parades along the Crumlin Road."

Mr Kelly, who watched the parade, said it heralded a new era for an area blighted by years of rioting when sectarian tensions spilled over.

He added: "Now we have the potential to move forward. I want this to open up many more good relationships."

But the angry GARC protesters turned on the local priest, politicians and a journalist after the event. They surrounded Fr Donegan - on what was his final day in the parish - and insulted him using foul language. It was during this incident that Gerard McCusker, a brother of an SDLP councillor, singled out Mr Woodhouse and told him he was "coming after" him and warned he "better watch" himself.

The PSNI last night said they were investigating a report of threatening behaviour.

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