Belfast Telegraph

The Twelfth: Peaceful Ardoyne raises hope for deal

Pleas for Order to enter talks and finally resolve parades disputes

By Adrian Rutherford

The most peaceful Twelfth in years has lifted hopes that the deadlock over parades can finally be resolved.

Unionist politicians and the Orange Order have been praised after Saturday's demonstrations passed without serious incident.

In north Belfast the return leg of a feeder parade banned from passing a sectarian flashpoint ended with no repeat of the violence seen in previous years.

Orangemen staged a peaceful protest at the Ardoyne interface where Ligoniel lodges were prevented from returning along a stretch of Crumlin Road separating unionist and nationalist communities.

There were calls for the Orange Order to capitalise on that feelgood factor and enter talks to try and reach agreement on the issue.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said: "The Orange shouldn't leave talking for too long. There is a need to strike while the iron is hot and put it up to the people who are the road block to parades.

"Far, far too often Sinn Fein have been let off the hook because they haven't been put to the test.

"Now is the time to say 'if we talk the talk can we walk the walk'?"

The largely peaceful Twelfth followed pleas from unionist leaders and senior Orangemen.

At 17 main parades across Northern Ireland, marchers stopped for six minutes – the time it would take to complete the Ardoyne walk – and a statement was read out calling for the Parades Commission to be scrapped.

It was the first stage in what unionists said would be a "graduated response" to the body's refusal to allow Orangemen to pass the contested section of Ardoyne for a second successive year.

Although Saturday's return leg was trouble-free, the wider issue of contentious marches has still to be resolved. But hopes have been raised that the atmosphere now exists to reach a deal. Peter Sheridan from peace-building charity Co-operation Ireland said he believed agreement was more likely after a quiet Twelfth.

"It has created breathing space and a climate where progress can hopefully be made," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "There is an atmosphere, at least in the short term, where progress is possible if there is a willingness on both sides to make that happen.

"The recriminations which would have happened had violence occurred wouldn't have allowed for that atmosphere."

Mr Sheridan, a former PSNI assistant chief constable, said he believed a deal could be done.

"It requires people to be willing to compromise on all sides, but a deal can be found," he said.

"People went to incredible lengths to make it peaceful, and that should be first of all acknowledged, and while it's a short-term gain, there is an opportunity to build on what happened over the weekend."

Mr Sheridan said generosity and compromise were key to solving the issue.

North Belfast SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said it was imperative that dialogue over parades resumed.

"North Belfast does not need to tear itself apart every year, residents do not need to be left to pick up the pieces following nights of disorder and the police do not need to sustain scores of injuries keeping a fragile peace," he said.

A commission spokesman said: "Reducing tension and instances of public disorder is an encouraging backdrop against which to address outstanding parading issues through sincere, meaningful and sustained dialogue."

The pre-Twelfth focus had centred on Ardoyne, which in recent years had been the focal point for the parades dispute.

A major security operation was in place using more than 40 armoured police vehicles, two water cannons and 1,000 officers.

Bands played music, supporters cheered and demonstrators carried a large banner as Orangemen were halted a short distance from the contested stretch of road. The crowd later dispersed. Earlier there were minor scuffles after a parade passed St Patrick's Church in Donegall Street.

Missiles were thrown at police while Mass-goers were trapped for a short period outside the church as bands filed past, most playing a single drum beat.

The PSNI is investigating claims one band played music as it passed in defiance of a Parades Commission ruling.

Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ní Chuilín claimed the Famine Song was played by one band. But there was no repeat of the violence of 12 months earlier.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, overseeing his first major event since taking office, acknowledged the "responsible leadership" of unionists.

"We have had a quiet and peaceful parading season up to and including today and I hope that this continues for the rest of the summer," he said.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers praised the Orange Order and unionist leaders for the intensive work they had done to ensure a peaceful Twelfth.

But Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson said there was a realisation that the Parades Commission and the system of regulating parades was failing, and called on Ms Villiers to heed the "unmistakable message" emanating from unionism for change.

Further Reading

Twelfth parade: Newtownards

Twelfth parade: Limavady

Twelfth parade: Larne

Twelfth parade: Markethill

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The Twelfth: Temporary respite, but definitive answer still needed 

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