Contentious Orange Order march passes off peacefully in Belfast

March brings to an end three years of protests over parade route in the Ardoyne

 

An Orange Order march has passed off peacefully in north Belfast as part of a deal to end one of the most contentious parading disputes in Northern Ireland’s history.

On Saturday morning three Ligoneil lodges and two bands completed the return leg of their 2013 Twelfth of July parade.

Orangemen and other loyalists have been protesting in the Woodvale/Twaddell area six times a week since 2013 after the Parades Commission refused to let them have an evening parade past shops on the Crumlin Road in the nationalist Ardoyne district.

After a series of failed attempts to secure a deal, last week a local agreement between the loyal orders and the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (Cara) was reached.

Cara agreed to end its protests at existing morning parades in return for a moratorium on return parades following Saturday’s parade.

However, Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) are unhappy with the arrangement and protested against what they described as a “walk of shame”.

GARC spokesman Dee Fennell claimed it was a “Sinn Féin/UVF imposed deal rewarding the Orange Order for years of hatred”.

Following the conclusion of the parade Mr Fennell and GARC members spotted Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly on the Crumlin Road and tried to confront him.

PSNI officers had to step in to prevent them reaching the North Belfast politician. During angry exchanges and minor scuffles one officer had a hot drink thrown at his face.

Prior to this GARC supporters had confronted outgoing parish priest Fr Gary Donegan, calling him a “gangster priest” and told him he should he ashamed of himself for supporting the deal before shouting “shame, shame” at him.

Fr Donegan said he understood some in the Ardoyne community, which he said was seriously impacted by the conflict in the North over decades, were “aggrieved and annoyed”.

“Do we all ourselves to be imprisoned by our past or do we hope, especially for our young people a new future and new beginning?” he asked.

The cost of policing the parades and associated protests over the last three years and two months is in excess of £21 million.

Commenting on the peaceful parades and protests that took place in the area on Friday night and Saturday morning Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said 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”.

“Police are committed to playing our part in maintaining community safety and we hope that the local agreement that has been reached in this particular part of North Belfast will allow the policing resources that previously had to be allocated to the nightly protest and associated security operation, to be re-directed into addressing issues such as drugs, burglary and car crime which affect people’s quality of life,” he said.

Deputy County Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast Spencer Beattie said its only objective was to “Let Them Home” and there was “a sense of relief that our civil and religious liberties have been restored”.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire said the march had brought a “welcome end” to one of Northern Ireland’s most difficult parading disputes.

“It sends a strong signal that dialogue can work and provides a platform of cooperation on which all involved will be able to build,” he said.

Cara and the Orange Order have committed to involvement in a community forum to discuss future parading issues. The Camp Twaddell protest camp on Twaddell Avenue, which was manned by loyalists during the last 38 months, was dismantled immediately after Saturday’s parade concluded.