Belfast Telegraph

Belfast riots: Same old issues on road to same old cul-de-sac

By Brian Rowan

It was the expected decision from the Parades Commission on the application from the Orange Order to walk the contentious stretch of road in north Belfast.

The ruling is the same as for the Twelfth; the march can go as far as Woodvale Parade, but not the several hundred yards to take it to Ardoyne and beyond.

Since last Friday police have held the line at Woodvale Parade. A week ago they were confronted by an angry crowd.

Since then there has been talking inside the Protestant, unionist, loyalist community about tactics and strategy.

Pre-Twelfth and since, there have been meetings in which senior paramilitary figures have been in the room with Orange leaders and unionist politicians.

Then on Wednesday news emerged of a march application to walk part of the Shankill Road, Woodvale Road, Crumlin Road to Ligoniel Orange hall.

The development happened as US diplomat Richard Haass arrived to start talks on flags, parades and the past, hoping to find a way out of the deadlock.

Yesterday, hours before the ruling was announced, the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group in south Belfast tweeted: "Breaking: Parades Commission to announce that parade can go ahead this Saturday. Source close to Commission confirms. Announcement soon."

A republican dismissed the tweet as "wishful thinking" and a loyalist advised me to "be very careful".

And then we watched the rowing back on Twitter.

A second tweet that said the original information was "NOT CONFIRMED", and then another apologising: "Earlier tweet suggesting full parade journey allowed on Saturday INCORRECT. We apologise for this error. Restrictions in place."

The original tweet raised eyebrows.

Someone, somewhere got it badly wrong and in the confusion a branch of the UPRG also got its wires crossed.

For days now the police have been planning for big numbers and high-visibility operations, which is why several hundred mutual aid officers from other UK forces are still here.

And there will be much watching and listening until tomorrow, trying to work out next steps and who is planning what.

Both Orange and loyalist leaders have stated publicly that the Twelfth parade is not over until the Ligoniel lodges complete the marching route.

But parading is stuck in another cul-de-sac with nowhere to go.

There are still dangers in this situation. One loyalist I spoke to earlier this week dismissed the rioting as "kids' stuff", that it would take very little for anger in his community to explode.

The message has been delivered elsewhere. But there is no sign of the Parades Commission or the police or the Secretary of State buckling.

They can't, because any decision to allow a march would be viewed in the other community as a cave-in under pressure.

It would read back into decisions taken on Drumcree by former Chief Constables Sir Hugh Annesley and Sir Ronnie Flanagan in the 1990s.

So, it is stalemate.

Jokingly, one loyalist suggested "Kate's baby" could save the day, turning protest into party.

What he was saying is there is no big idea out there; that we are stuck on the same old road with the same old issues.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph