Don't turn Ardoyne into another Drumcree: UUP
Mike Nesbitt tells Orange Order there is no support for a long stand-off
A senior unionist has appealed for the Orange Order not to "create another Drumcree in Belfast" by applying for marches past the Ardoyne shops every Saturday.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt is the first mainstream unionist leader to openly criticise Orange tactics by suggesting they are bound to fail.
Mr Nesbitt warned: "There is not the support for it."
His words are significant because, in principle, he shares the Order's criticism of the Parades Commission decision to stop it walking past Ardoyne shops as marchers returned from the field on the evening of July 12.
The UUP leader's call came as the Parades Commission turned down another application to pass the shops tomorrow afternoon.
A senior Orange Order source said the Order's current intention was to apply for another parade each week until it was allowed to pass.
That is precisely the tactics used in Portadown where the Orange Order's No.1 district has applied unsuccessfully for a march along Garvaghy Road each week since July 5, 1998.
That was when it was first stopped marching along its chosen route from a service in Drumcree Church to Carleton Street Orange hall.
Over the years the accompanying protests have gradually died down.
Now district officers generally hand a letter of protest to the police each week. They ask to be allowed to complete the march they started 15 years ago, so far without success. There has been little trouble at this weekly ritual, and little media attention either.
Mr Nesbitt was sympathetic to the Order's predicament.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: "I understand that the Orange Order now have an issue, because in terms of their ethos, the parade (past Ardoyne) is not over yet but I would genuinely caution them against creating another Drumcree in Belfast.
"I hope they are not talking about a regular weekly event because I don't think the support is there for that. It won't work and from what I can see nobody wants it. I question whether that many of the Order's own members want it either."
Mr Nesbitt advised Orange leaders to learn the lessons of Portadown.
"Look at what happened at Drumcree, where they still haven't succeeded in completing the march and where, in fact, the residents are now refusing to talk to the Order," he said.
This is a reference to the fact that the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, which opposed the march, had initially demanded to talk to Orangemen, using the slogan "No Talk, No Walk", but was rebuffed by Portadown Orangemen.
However, once the march was stopped for a few years the Portadown Orangemen offered to talk, but the residents refused as they view the issue as now settled.
That is still the situation, though in Ardoyne both residents and Orangemen say they are currently open to dialogue.
Mr Nesbitt added: "While local dialogue is clearly something that we should aspire to and welcome, it may not work without an overarching policy on parades."
He urged the Order to concentrate its efforts on the process chaired by Richard Haass, which "could give us that overarching policy".
Meanwhile John McCallister, deputy leader of new unionist party NI21, questioned the wisdom of the Orange Order's application to march along a route that it had been banned from marching less than a week ago.
"The decision by the Orange Order to lodge a fresh application in light of what has happened in recent days was very surprising. The Order would undoubtedly have realised that the Parades Commission would reach a determination in line with that of last week," the South Down Assembly Member said.
"In the Assembly my party colleague Basil McCrea called on the Orange Order to learn from the positive experiences of respectful, sustained dialogue with residents in Londonderry and across the country where we saw a peaceful celebration of culture.
"This sort of genuine progress does not happen in a week. This was Orangeism at its best. By needlessly raising tensions in Belfast and neglecting to provide responsible leadership, the Orange Order is inflicting huge damage upon itself," the MLA added.