Leading loyalist calls for Sinn Fein gesture to resolve marching impasse
A senior Shankill loyalist has said the marching standoff is making a mockery of Sinn Fein's reconciliation project.
And Winston Irvine called for a signal from republicans that they are not out to ostracise the unionist community.
The PUP spokesman had a prominent role in last Saturday's protest on the Woodvale Road – part of the continuing fallout since the Parades Commission blocked the return route of a Twelfth march in north Belfast.
That is the feeder parade which passes Ardoyne – and the decision to stop it sparked violent clashes at police lines.
But last Saturday's protest at the same spot was peaceful.
"People are looking and they're seeing more and more parades becoming contentious," Mr Irvine told this newspaper.
"It's no longer a handful," he continued.
"Because of the Donegall Street development (at St Patrick's Church) there are now 30 parades previously uncontested now contentious.
"In our view the Parades Commission systems and procedures are being exploited by some in the republican community and the Commission is aiding and abetting and has become a wreckers' charter," he said.
The senior PUP figure spoke of wider implications – including for the reconciliation project being driven by Sinn Fein's national chairman:
On the latest battle over parades, Mr Irvine said: "That is making a mockery of Declan Kearney's (Sinn Fein chairman) efforts at trying to put in place a reconciliation framework to address outstanding issues.
"The current situation puts quite a lot of the work on freeze. Something has to change," he continued.
"There needs to be a gesture, something, a signal that republicans and the Commission are not out to ostracise the unionist community," Mr Irvine said.
Responding, Declan Kearney said: "Solutions to difficulties are only found through engagement and dialogue.
"The only way forward for our community – as republican and unionist citizens – is through a reconciliation process which we build together on an inclusive basis. Talking to each other without preconditions is central to that task," he said.
In recent months, a range of sources have confirmed that direct meetings have been held between the PUP and Sinn Fein at leadership level to discuss reconciliation and legacy issues.
One source described the direct talks as "substantial, forthright and honest".
The dialogue has involved Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and PUP leader Billy Hutchinson (left).
But, now, the mood has been soured by this latest marching row.
The Parades Commission yesterday blocked Orange Order applications to walk the Crumlin Road for the next two Saturdays. It followed the blocking of two parades along the road, on the Twelfth and a subsequent protest parade last Saturday. The Order had lodged applications for the parades over the next three consecutive weekends, which include the contentious route along Crumlin Road past Ardoyne. Decisions on the other parade, on August 10, will be announced next week. The Order has applied to walk from the Shankill area, along Woodvale Road to the Crumlin Road.