Twaddell Avenue: As loyalist camp lies empty, residents look to a peaceful future
After almost 1,200 days and a £21m policing operation the notorious camp Twaddell yesterday lay deserted.
The iron gates to the now lifeless camp - which consists of a caravan, a portable building and portable toilets - were securely padlocked.
Union flags and banners of support for the loyalist protesters still surrounded the empty site. But the physical remnants of the camp will be dismantled on Saturday morning, bringing an end to the three-year protest.
The camp on the corner of Twaddell Avenue, which featured in a Ross Kemp TV documentary and was visited by the likes of controversial comic Russell Brand, was set up in 2013 after three Orange lodges were denied permission to complete their Twelfth of July return parade along the Crumlin Road.
Protesters vowed to stay until Orangemen were allowed to complete the journey.
After months of negotiations an agreement was reached on Friday, bringing an end to the long-running parade dispute.
If approved by the Parades Commission, the lodges will complete the return leg of the parade along the Crumlin Road at 8.30am on Saturday morning.
After the parade takes place, the protest camp at Twaddell Avenue will be disbanded and the Orange Order will not apply to make the return leg on the Twelfth without agreement.
An elderly Twaddell resident out walking his dog paused at the gates of the camp yesterday and peered in.
"I'm glad that is finally closed. Good riddance to it. I think there are plans to build new homes in there. Now isn't that a much better use of the space? A few hot heads started this. The whole thing was just stupid," said the 78 year-old.
"I moved into this area in the 1960s and I witnessed some terrible things here. I thought the Troubles were over, but there are some people out there who just won't let us move on. I just want to be left to live in peace. I'm glad to hear they've reached an agreement. It's about time. We all just want to move on," he added.
Due to its location at a tense interface area, the PSNI was forced to provide security at the site over the past three years.
Recently Chief Constable George Hamilton revealed that the estimated cost of the policing operation was a staggering £21m. At its peak, the cost of the Twaddell Avenue policing operation stood at £1m a month.
The flashpoint has previously witnessed serious loyalist and republican rioting when tensions boiled over.
Last year, more than 20 police officers and a 13-year-old girl were injured when trouble erupted on the return leg of a Twelfth of July parade.
One officer had to undergo surgery to reattach his ear when it was "effectively severed" after being hit by masonry.
Dissident republicans also used the nightly gathering of police in the area to target officers. In one incident a rocket-propelled grenade launcher was fired at a PSNI Land Rover close to the camp. Another patrol vehicle came under automatic gunfire from dissidents and a crude bomb was thrown at a PSNI vehicle as it drove along the Crumlin Road.
However, there was little sign of tension yesterday as a group of children happily played football at the front of the Ardoyne shop fronts - the scene of sectarian rioting in the past.
A young Catholic woman out for a Sunday evening jog said she was relieved that a resolution to the dispute had been reached.
Nodding towards the camp across the road she said: "It shouldn't have been allowed to go on this long. I was fed up looking at that protest. I'm not bothered about the march on Saturday morning. I'll be in my bed and won't hear a thing. Anyone who doesn't want them to walk should just stay in their beds until its over. It'll be over in five minutes."
News of the breakthrough in the dispute was warmly welcomed by politicians and police.
First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster said the agreement was "a welcome development" and "a significant step".
While there has been a lot of will among both communities to resolve this parading issue there is still some way to go to eradicate the inbred mistrust and the "them and us" mentality.
"I don't see why them ones have a problem. It's a public road and it (the parade) would be past them in a couple of minutes. We wouldn't have had all this trouble if the parade hadn't been stopped in the first place," said a Twaddell resident.
"Those ones are getting what they want. I'll be glad when it's over. But I don't trust them," an Ardoyne resident said.