Loyalist protests: This won't be like Drumcree - we will win and walk through Ardoyne
Published 13/09/2013 | 07:00
Defiant Orange Order leaders have backed a so-called loyalist civil rights camp at a sectarian interface and insisted they will remain there until Christmas and beyond.
The site at Twaddell Avenue in north Belfast has been occupied by protesters 24 hours each day for the past 61 days. And, backed by the Orange Order and DUP, protesters have vowed not to move until a row over a contentious parade is resolved.
The stance has been criticised by one of the delegates set to take part in major new talks surrounding parades, flags and the past.
The camp was established at the spot where Orangemen were stopped from completing a march on July 12.
Those at the camp say they will not budge until marchers are allowed back on to the contested stretch of road, past Ardoyne shops on Crumlin Road.
Orange Order County Grand Master of Belfast, George Chittick, said the Order was fully behind the protesters. "We are not going away," he said. "This is not the same as Drumcree, we are permanently here."
The Order's stance has been criticised just days before the much-anticipated multi-party talks chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass on the most divisive issues facing Northern Ireland. Ahead of his visit, the former US envoy to Northern Ireland has appealed to members of the public for ideas.
He invited submissions at a new website, Panel of Parties in the NI Executive – panelof partiesnie.com. It pledges that the process will be "as inclusive as possible" and that Dr Haass and talks vice-chairwoman Professor Meghan O'Sullivan will "meet with as many stakeholders as possible during their visits to Northern Ireland".
Last week the DUP announced that outspoken Orange Order grand chaplain Mervyn Gibson will represent the party at the talks – despite not being a member of the DUP.
Alex Attwood, who will represent the SDLP, said of those involved in protests: "These people do not represent where the vast majority of people in the north want to be.
"The DUP and other elements in unionism must stop following them and must start leading.
"Failure to do so will see our politics further degrade when Haass creates the option to achieve the ambition and live up to the hopes of people."
Since July 12 there have been over 50 parades at the flashpoint involving around 200 loyalists.
There have also been marches from West Belfast Orange Hall to Woodvale Road every Saturday involving hundreds of Orangemen and band members.
"The Orange Order is fully behind behind the members of the three Ligoniel lodges," added Mr Chittick.
"Nights when you come up here you meet members from Fermanagh, Tyrone, Armagh, County Down, County Antrim and County Londonderry. They're here supporting their brethren.
"They are only looking for their civil and religious liberty, to walk home and help close off the Twelfth for the Orange Institution."
DUP councillor for the Oldpark area of Belfast, Lee Reynolds, said those at the camp were in it for the long haul and had the backing of the party. Many people, including the Northern Ireland Office, police and the Parades Commission, thought the community would take it on the chin following the Twelfth of July and go home," he said. "They obviously completely miscalculated the strength of feeling."