Parading deal would not just ease tensions, it would free Northern Ireland of cruel burden from history
Breakdown of tentative agreement over Ardoyne shouldn't be viewed as failure, as a template for a settlement has been created that can be used for the next marching season, says Alban Maginness
My father, who was reared in Ardoyne and taught there most of his adult life, recalled his father taking him for a walk as a small child. They walked up the Crumlin Road, out along what was later to be St Gabriel's Secondary School and which was then just countryside. As they walked along the road they passed by a dead body lying in a field adjacent to the road. The body was the latest victim of the original Troubles, and the sight not an unusual event in the early-1920s in Ardoyne.
Fast-forward to 1969, to be precise August 15, 1969. After two days of riots, barricades and violent clashes between loyalists and Catholic residents and the RUC, three people lay shot dead in the streets. Dozens of homes belonging to Catholics in Hooker Street and Brookfield Street had been torched and hundreds of Catholic residents fled their homes. The Army were belatedly deployed and, according to the Scarman Report " ... the violence died down into the quiet of exhaustion".
This was the beginning of our own Troubles and Ardoyne was at the very epicentre of that tragic development.
If you read Andy Boyd's Holy War In Belfast you can begin to understand the smouldering, clinging history of sectarian hatred and violence - exemplified in particular by disputed Orange Order parades - that has shaped and formed modern Belfast long before partition and the Troubles.
This sectarian political poison has ebbed and flowed in Belfast since its great expansion into an industrial city in the 19th century. It was cemented into the very fabric of the city as it grew, brick by brick. Ardoyne was - and remains - a victim of that sectarian strife.
So, the current problem of parades and parading in Ardoyne, along what is now the upper Crumlin Road, just where my father and grandfather saw an earlier victim of the Troubles, is steeped in history from which we need to be liberated.
The fractured and embittered relationship between Catholic and Protestant continues to express itself in these recurrent clashes over Orange parades. It is, in effect, a surrogate for the unresolved relationship between Catholic and Protestant communities in Belfast at large.
Recently there was a brave and imaginative attempt to come to a local agreement to find a way out of this historic deadlock. Discussions took place between Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (Cara) and the Orange Order, overseen by the Rev Harold Good.
Rev Good is a Methodist minister who has given a lifetime's service in the cause of peace. His invaluable work in supervising the decommissioning of IRA weaponry was responsible for restoring the Assembly and re-energising our politics.
Both parties arrived at a tentative plan that could have brought about a compromise deal that would have permitted, by way of cross-community agreement, the return parade of the Orange Order that was prohibited by a Parades Commission ruling in 2013.
However, this plan was not acceptable to one of the lodges, and Cara - rightly, in my opinion - declined to agree to a plan that had not got the full-hearted support of all the relevant Orange lodges.
This agreement would also have seen an end to the Twaddell loyalist protest camp, which would give huge relief to the PSNI, as it has had to permanently police it at a massive cost of more than £20m.
But it could also have paved the way for a final settlement to the hostile relationship between the two communities in Ardoyne by creating goodwill over parading and an end to the threat and reality of public disorder.
It would have, in effect, liberated the people from the cruel burden of history. Normality might then take over.
Sadly, this tentative agreement was not to be.
I prefer to see this not so much as a failure, but rather a potential settlement having been stalled.
There is much to be positive about and it is fair to say that there has been little acrimony from the leading participants. A template for a settlement has been created taht could - and should - be used for next year's marching season.
Of course, there will still be opposition, which needs to be encouraged and engaged rather than condemned or marginalised, to see this as a major step forward and a liberation for both communities. In particular, the Orange Order needs to distance itself from the baneful influence of loyalist paramilitaries.
What a tantalising opportunity there was to end almost a hundred years of sectarian strife. A sadly lost opportunity, but maybe just for the moment.
As C S Lewis wrote: "Between little hope and no hope lies an ocean of opportunity." For all the people of Ardoyne, there is now an ocean of opportunity.