Belfast Telegraph

Twaddell protesters take the afternoon off at loyalist camp said to cost £40,000 a night

By Noel McAdam and David Young

Day 542 at the Twaddell Avenue protest camp - and it's closed for the afternoon. A dull January day has turned damp, and the camp caravan, Christmas tree decorations and toilets are all securely locked up.

The Belfast Telegraph visited yesterday to take the temperature of the protest after Secretary of State Theresa Villier abandoned her plans for a panel inquiry into the parade the protesters insist is their right.

Loyalists set up a 'permanent' camp at Twaddell in July 2102 after a Parades Commission decision stopped an Orange Order parade taking place on a stretch of the adjoining Crumlin Road, which separates unionist and nationalist areas.

But for some time yesterday no-one was at the camp which the PSNI says costs £40,000 a night to police - a total bill that hit £12m in October.

Neighbours claimed there is often no-one at the camp until around teatime, although passers-by voiced surprise that there was no-one inside the camp caravan. It could be seen adorned with a Christmas tree sporting a sash and Orange decorations.

One local man said: "You would tend to see a few people standing about most days. And I know myself some people who have stayed overnight.

"I don't know why there is nobody about, it may be because of the New Year holidays."

Later on, however, organisers insisted those who were supposed to be present had had to deal with an "emergency" - but there are no details.

Local Orange lodge member Gerald Solinas often speaks for the campsite loyalists.

"The protest is still there 24 hours but sometimes people have to go home early. We have a total pool of more than 100 and some would be down for a six-hour shift and others a 12-hour shift. Most of them are also working, remember," he explained.

"There is still total support for the cause and we will not be going anywhere until there is a satisfactory resolution."

At any point there are meant to be three or four people present - often staying overnight.

DUP MLA Nelson McCausland said he, local MP Nigel Dodds, councillor Lee Reynolds and other party members take it in turns to attend - but admitted he hasn't stayed overnight.

However, later in the evening, camp activity increases and our second reporter to visit was warmly welcomed in.

Behind the fence festooned with banners there are two caravans that have seen better days, a prefabricated building with a broken window, and a selection of plastic wheelie bins.

Inside the prefab, Jacqueline Elliot - a mother figure in the camp - pointed out letters covering the walls recording the thousands of pounds the camp supporters have raised for charity.

She insisted she had been there from Day 1 and wouldn't leave until the march was allowed.

Mr Solinas appeared afterwards, full of energy as he described the history of the protest, and couched Camp Twaddell's story in the language of civil and religious liberty.

He denounced the violence and lawbreaking that once took place just yards away, and was upbeat about sentiment within the camp in the wake of Ms Villiers' decision.

"The mood remains resolute," he said.

Jacqueline's friend Jean agreed. "We're all happy bunnies here" she said, drawing on a cigarette.

Mr Solinas insisted the demonstration from Ligoniel will "return home" at some stage, a refrain once heard at Drumcree.

"We continue to peacefully lobby for our civil and religious liberties, and we will do that until we get up the road," he said. "People ask us if we are going to stay, and the simple answer is - yes."

But he had no praise for the political leadership in unionism.

"We're coming up to an election. You have people playing political games, you have people who want to further their own party, you have people who want to use situations for political gains.

"I feel let down by our unionist leaders, who have not engaged with the promises they made around the graduated response," he added - a reference to the unspecified plan to increase pressure for a parade.

"The working class unionist/loyalist people feel disillusioned with our unionist leadership."

Late visitors yesterday included German academic Dr Marcel Baumann, who has been visiting Northern Ireland for the past 15 years.

A committed Protestant, he is a firm supporter of the protest.

"For me, it is unbelievable that the republican community does not have the tolerance to accept six minutes of a dignified peaceful parade passing (Ardoyne) shops," he said.

"How are you going to build the shared future everyone is talking about?"

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