Belfast Telegraph

Loyalists vow to maintain protest at north Belfast flashpoint until Christmas and beyond

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Loyalists who have set up a protest camp close to a north Belfast flashpoint say they are prepared to stay until Christmas and beyond.

The so-called "civil rights camp" was established at the spot where Orangemen were stopped from completing a controversial parade on July 12.

They have maintained a 24-hour presence at the site on Twaddell Avenue for the past 61 days and have vowed not to leave until the marchers are allowed back on to the contested stretch of road.

Grandmother-of-three Tina Patrick, 58, said volunteers were already putting their names forward for the Christmas shift.

"The camp has united loyalism like I have never seen before," she said.

"We have politicians doing the camp, community reps and organisations all volunteering to come here for a shift.

"I have people who have put their name down for Christmas Day."

Serious rioting erupted in north Belfast after police enforced a determination by the Parades Commission adjudication body to block the return Orange Order parade past the interface at Ardoyne.

Violence flared when riot squad officers prevented Orangemen from walking any further than the Woodvale Road.

Police were pelted with bricks, bottles and heavy masonry during clashes with loyalists, some of whom were wearing Orange sashes, resulting in over 40 officers being injured.

Last year, republicans clashed with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) after the parade was allowed to pass Ardoyne.

A number of shots were fired at police and an explosive device was also hurled towards officers.

Since July 12 there have been over 50 parades at the flashpoint involving around 200 loyalists.

There have also been marches from West Belfast Orange Hall to Woodvale Road every Saturday involving hundreds of Orangemen and band members.

So far, the protests have been peaceful and no arrests have been made.

But the PSNI previously revealed the bill for monitoring the camp was about £300,000-a-day.

Martin Holland, 48, from the North Belfast Young Loyalists flute band, said he was determined to see the campaign through.

He said: "I am going to be here for as long as it - everybody is going to be here.

"At times you do get frustrated because we know that we should not have to be here, the boys should have been able to get home on the twelfth.

"But we are here until they decide that the boys can get up home."

Behind locked metal gates, the makeshift camp consists of a caravan which is decked out with Union flag bunting and Glasgow Rangers-covered seating.

There is also a temporary building which has recently been decorated, and a tent.

There are basic cooking facilities.

Union flags are erected alongside hanging floral displays.

Teams of at least six people rotate a shift pattern and have to abide by a code of conduct which includes a ban on alcohol.

 Outside, banners which read End hatred of Orange culture have been pinned to railings alongside placards demanding abolition of the Parades Commission.

Camp organisers said they had received support from Canada, Scotland, England and across Northern Ireland.

All the main unionist parties had also backed their campaign.

Michael Cosby, 51, a base drum player with Pride of Ardoyne flute band, said he wanted to see the Parades Commission abolished.

He said: "I just want to be able to finish my parade.

"I live in Upper Ardoyne, so I am a resident too.

"People say there is a shared space and shared future but where is it because we do not see it in north Belfast.

"What we see is that republican violence has been rewarded.

"The Parades Commission has to go."

Mr Cosby said community relations in north Belfast were at an all time low but claimed he was willing to talk with nationalist residents in a bid to resolve the Ardoyne dispute.

George Chittick, Orange Order County Grand Master of Belfast, also pledged his support for the loyalist campers.

He said: "My brethren from the Ligoniel Lodges cannot get home.

"The Twelfth of July is not over until them brethren get home.

"We have been here for 61 days and if it takes another 61 days we will still be here.

"If it takes longer than that we will still be here.

"It is the principal of the thing.

"We are demanding civil and religious liberty for all, special privileges for none.

"Some day they will listen to us.

"If people are so concerned about the money, send the bill to the Parades Commission because they are the people that caused the problem in the first place."

Meanwhile, Winstone Irvine from the Progressive Unionist Party said he was confident protesters would not be forgotten.

"We will probably be taking orders for Christmas dinners because people will be here right throughout the winter and beyond if needs be.

"People have said that 'this is enough'.

"Already there have been foundations put in place for people to bed in for the winter and my understanding is that there are plans to ensure people are looked after for those who are going to continue with the camp and the campaign."

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