Orange Order makes 'last push' to complete Ardoyne parade
The new five-member Parades Commission faces a crunch decision in the coming days – with a fresh application to complete a controversial Orange march in north Belfast.
That return leg of the parade along a route that passes Ardoyne has been blocked since July 12 last year with the cost of nightly police operations running into millions of pounds.
Now, the Ligoniel Lodges have applied to complete their march on the morning of Saturday, June 7.
And, speaking to this newspaper, a senior Orange Order source described it as a "last push" and "genuine effort" to get a resolution before the Twelfth.
The commission is due to begin its deliberations tomorrow.
And one source watching developments commented: "Within certain elements of the Orange Order and loyalism there's an expectation that the parade will be allowed up."
Another source, speaking on condition of non-attribution, said: "Sufficient to say there are very serious concerns about the floating of the idea and the way the idea is being canvassed and who's involved."
He said any decision to allow the return march would be "highly reckless and irresponsible".
This newspaper understands that senior Catholic and Church of Ireland clergy have been involved in background talks that began late last year.
According to sources, Bishop Donal McKeown and Bishop Alan Abernethy have been part of those talks, along with politicians Gerry Kelly and Alban Maginness, local nationalist residents, representatives of the local lodges and others including Winston Irvine of the PUP and Lee Reynolds of the DUP.
After a pause in meetings, another is planned for June 1 – just six days before that June 7 march application date which the Parades Commission has to rule on.
The commission might not come to an immediate decision, but rather allow space for those talks.
A range of sources is describing both a volatile and a delicate situation and "big stakes".
The June 7 date is seen as the last chance to get something resolved before a series of parades that mark the beginning of a new summer marching season – the Tour of the North, the Whiterock Parade and the Twelfth.
"There's certainly speculation that the Parades Commission want it resolved before the Twelfth," a senior Orange Order source said.
But the question is how it can be resolved without local agreement.
At this point, there is no suggestion that those background talks have come close to producing a breakthrough formula.
The decision last summer to stop the return march on the Woodvale Road was described by a number of sources at the time as the "nuclear option".
There was rioting at police lines and a near year-long stand-off has developed with a permanent protest camp being set up in the Twaddell area.
Now, the new Parades Commission faces a huge decision – one that will be controversial whatever the ruling.
The June 7 application is listed for consideration tomorrow, but it could be several days before any decision emerges.
Last-minute dialogue last summer was given space and, if there are plans for talks to take place on June 1, then the commission is likely to wait.
A local agreement is the best option, but may not be possible.