Belfast Telegraph

Controversial Orange Order parade passes off peacefully

One of Northern Ireland's most controversial parades has passed off peacefully.

Orangemen were granted permission to march past a notorious sectarian flashpoint after a landmark deal ended a three-year dispute between the loyal orders and nationalist residents in north Belfast.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) mounted a massive security operation deploying more than 600 officers on the ground backed up by air support units.

The landmark accord between the Orange Order and the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents' Association (Cara) was struck after protracted negotiations, mediated by the Rev Harold Good and businessman Jim Roddy.

It allowed Orangemen from three lodges and two bands to complete the outstanding leg of their 2013 Twelfth of July commemorations past an interface, the scene of serious rioting in the past.

As they passed a row of shops at Ardoyne, around 60 protesters from the hardline Greater Ardoyne Residents' Collective (GARC), which was not involved in the talks, chanted "walk of shame".

Marchers were cheered, applauded, hugged and kissed by loyalist supporters as they reached the end of the contested stretch of road.

Afterwards there were some brief scuffles between angry residents and the police.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly and high profile Catholic priest Fr Gary Donegan were also confronted by protesters shouting "shame" and "sell out".

It was agreed the bands would only play hymns as they passed the disputed section at Ardoyne, while the lodges would limit the number of banners on display.

A so-called protest camp in the nearby Twaddell area, where loyalists have staged weekly parades which have cost in excess of £20 million to police, is also being dismantled.

In return, Cara did not request Parades Commission permission for a protest.

The lodges have agreed not to apply for any more return parades on the Twelfth until a wider agreement on the issue is reached. Cara will not protest at the lodges' already-permitted outward parade on the morning of the Twelfth.

A local community forum including representatives of Cara, which has been supported by Sinn Fein, and the loyal orders, will also be convened with the aim of improving community relations in the area.

The historic deal was endorsed by local politicians as well as the British and Irish Governments, and church and community leaders.

Spencer Beattie, Orange Order County Grand Master said there was a sense of "relief".

He said: "The agreement reached did not come easy, but it is founded on mutual tolerance and respect.

"Going forward, we trust this positive atmosphere will prevail regarding future parades in north Belfast, including future return parades along the Crumlin Road."

Gerry Kelly, who watched the parade, welcomed the peaceful atmosphere and said it heralded a new era for the area blighted by years of rioting when sectarian tensions spilled over.

He said: "Now we have the potential to move forward. I want this to open up many more good relationships."

The Sinn Fein MLA said he was confident there was enough "will on both sides" to make the new deal work.

"I think it is the dawn of a new era in this area and of course there is a knock-on effect. We will be looking to this and gaining hope for other areas," he added.

As he left the area, Mr Kelly was heckled by angry republican protesters who branded him a "traitor".

Police in riot gear blocked their path as they attempted to make contact with the veteran politician and there were minor clashes.

At one point a hot drink was thrown in the face of an officer.

GARC, which was widely blamed for orchestrating violence following previous loyal order parades, described the historic agreement as a "shady deal".

The group's protest had been limited to 60 people and confined to a specific section of Crumlin Road.

Metal barriers were put in place to ensure the Parades Commission determination was not breached.

Spokesman Dee Fennell slammed the policing operation.

He said: "We have seen hundreds of PSNI officers caging in this community in order to facilitate an unwanted sectarian parade. The vast majority of residents have rejected all sectarian parades and we have seen a heavy military operation which defeats the notion that there is widespread community support for this deal."

On Friday around 200 people attended a demonstration organised by GARC - long-time critics of Sinn Fein - aimed at highlighting opposition to Orange marches in Ardoyne.

The security bill associated with the impasse which included policing loyalist nightly parades at Twaddell is in the millions.

At its height it was estimated to cost around £1 million a week.

PSNI was also targeted a number of times by violent dissident republicans intent on murder.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin has praised the efforts of all involved in finding a resolution.

He said: "This weekend has seen a number of notified parades and protests take place in north Belfast. Thankfully, all of these passed off peacefully due to the concerted effort of a wide number of individuals.

"The impact that positive dialogue and discussion has played in this process cannot be underestimated and I congratulate all those who helped today to happen."

Church leaders have also hailed the talks process with Presbyterian Moderator Dr Frank Sellar describing the peaceful parade as a "watershed moment".

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said the march brought a welcome end to one of the region's most difficult disputes.

He added: "It sends a strong signal that dialogue can work and provides a platform of co-operation on which all involved will be able to build."


From Belfast Telegraph