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Twaddell Avenue: Relief felt in both communities as money proves to be crucial cog in ending impasse

Henry McDonald

How appropriate that Fr Gary Donegan celebrated his last Mass at the Holy Cross church on Belfast's Crumlin Road yesterday.

His farewell on the altar to his Ardoyne parishioners was on the same weekend that the area - not just the Catholic/nationalist parish but the entire north Belfast district - breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The stand-off between Ardoyne and the Woodvale/upper Shankill over the banned Orange Order parade along the Crumlin Road is over.

It has been a fitting and happy pay-off for Fr Donegan, who has been one of those consistently instrumental in lowering cross-community tempers in the firestorm of the protests and counter-demonstrations around this final unresolved parades dispute.

Two summers ago, I watched the priest help defuse a potentially explosive situation after a loyalist protester's car ploughed into a crowd of nationalists on the Twelfth, almost killing a young nationalist woman on the road.

Fr Donegan enabled the police to rescue the injured woman from under the car while allowing the PSNI to exfiltrate the driver out of the vehicle before anyone from Ardoyne could get near him.

Fr Gary, as he is known locally, is one of those who, when the medals are handed out, should be first up to the podium to receive his reward.

The Ardoyne residents group Cara, two of the local Orange lodges and individuals on the loyalist side of this particular divide (Winky Irvine specifically comes to mind here) also deserve praise for finally resolving a dispute that has produced so much instability and violence over the last decade.

I can still replay in my head the rioting from both sides of the line, the water cannon, the plastic baton rounds and the missiles exchanged across the PSNI ring of steel over the last few years.

I once had the bruises to prove my presence there in those mad days.

Back on the Twelfth in 2013 someone hurled a huge boulder from Hesketh Park towards PSNI lines which hit me in the upper right arm.

It was miraculous that nothing was broken after the impact.

My only thought at the time was that if Team Ireland or Team GB Olympic recruits had been up on the Crumlin Road that evening they would have run down Hesketh seeking out the boulder-hurler and offering them a place on the team to Rio as a discus thrower.

Of course, as is always a case in this most dangerous of sectarian faultiness, there are pitfalls ahead for the agreement secured to close the Twaddell protest camp and allow eventually for the Orangemen to hold their return parade to Ligoniel.

The rival Greater Ardoyne Residents Coalition has not endorsed the deal while one Orange lodge is still unhappy with the compromise.

Either of these twin forces could do something on the streets to disrupt this fragile agreement. The return parade of the Orangemen to Ligoniel will tell the tale.

However, I would hazard a guess that most people on both sides of the invisible border between Ardoyne and the Woodvale/upper Shankill will be relieved that this dispute appears to be over.

Where Derry started and Portadown came around to, the Ardoyne/Crumlin Road/Woodvale marching battle appears to be coming to an end.

Its endgame though it does not herald a new era of peace, love and understanding between the two communities in north Belfast.

It was the conflict zone with the highest casualty figures during the Troubles.

Yet it does mark a start and a new beginning. After the dismantling of the peace wall and security barriers on the Crumlin Road a few weeks ago, the agreement points to the slow but inexorable crawl towards some kind of normality across this society.

Cynics might say - with some justification - that money will undoubtedly play a part in the dispute's resolution; that community groups and organisations might have been promised additional financial help if they can secure an agreement to end the stand-off.

Even if this has been a factor in pushing the warring parties towards compromise it will probably be money well spent given the millions already shelled out in paying for the security around this unstable salient of sectarian division.

Whatever cash is splashed to nudge the two sides towards a deal it will be a fraction of the expenditure on policing the problem.

Just as in the secret war against paramilitaries via the recruitment of informers and the deployment of expensive technology, money once again has been the most powerful weapon in securing peace and stability.

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