The Parades Commission has ruled that a Twelfth of July Orange parade will be allowed along Belfast's Ormeau Road next Monday. The Ormeau Road is traditionally one of the most contentious routes in Northern Ireland. In the past year, the commission has rerouted Orange parades away from the Catholic Lower Ormeau area three times.
The commission's chairman, Mr Alistair Graham, insisted that the Ormeau Road decision "was not a simple trade-off for our earlier decision on Drumcree".
A spokesman for the Lower Ormeau community, Mr Gerard Rice, said the community would be seeking a judicial review to overturn the decision, saying it was "based on a threat of violence". However the Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr Mowlam, said this "difficult decision", like the commission's other decisions, "has the force of law and, as such, should be upheld". Mr Graham noted that there had been little evidence of any significant effort by the Orange Order or the Apprentice Boys in the area to "prepare the ground" for future parades; on the other side, there had been no evidence to suggest that the Lower Ormeau community's stance had shifted towards the parades. He also said the Ballynafeigh district lodge in the Ormeau Road had been "inhibited" in preparing for future parades by the Orange Order leadership's ruling that no Orangemen should have any contact either with the Parades Commission or with residents' groups with perceived Sinn Fein leadership. However, there had been no parades on the road for over a year and "all protests by the loyal orders have been peaceful, dignified and within the law".
"Second, and perhaps of even more significance to the loyalist community, we have taken a decision to reroute the Drumcree church parade away from the Garvaghy Road this year. In that decision we refer to the need to `break the cycle'.
"That reference is to the cycle of parades taking place year on year on the Garvaghy Road in the most controversial circumstances. We also refer to the cumulative adverse effect on the nationalist community both in Portadown and across Northern Ireland as a whole of successive parades proceeding in the face of such total opposition."
Mr Graham went on: "It would be insensitive of us to ignore the cumulative effect on the loyalist community across Northern Ireland of successive parades being rerouted away from the Lower Ormeau, particularly when taken in conjunction with the Drumcree decision. We cannot ignore the importance of perceptions in Northern Ireland and there is now a clear emerging sense of deep hurt among loyalists which arises from our decisions to reroute.
"This is in danger of spilling over into a serious law and order situation which is harmful to both communities. We therefore cannot ignore the damaging effect that this will have on relationships within the wider community. Decisions on the Ormeau Road run the risk of acquiring a significance for the loyalist community equal to the significance of the Garvaghy Road decision for nationalists."
The Commission said the Ormeau Road parade, which is a feeder march into the main Belfast July 12th parade, would have to cross Havelock Bridge by 8.30 a.m., and that no music should be played between the Ormeau Bridge and the Havelock Bridge.
A spokesman for the Ballynafeigh Orangemen, Mr Noel Liggett, said there was no way the Ormeau Road decision could be considered compensation for the ban on the Orangemen marching in Portadown. "This community has had to suffer an awful lot over the issue of parades," he said, expressing concern that the RUC still had the power to reroute the parade at the last minute on public order grounds.
The Sinn Fein West Belfast Assembly member, Mr Alex Maskey, who attended the Parades Commission's press conference, said afterwards its decision on the Ormeau Road had "nothing to do with the rights of the Ormeau Road community and all to do with the concerns and perceptions of the unionists and the Orange Order". He said the Parades Commission had "gone against even their own criteria". He said so far this year the commission had prevented the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys "from going down the Ormeau Road because of the rights of the Ormeau Road community. But this is now a direct trade-off, not a balance. People should accord rights and not try to trade them off for someone else's concerns."
The SDLP Assembly member for the area, Ms Carmel Hanna, said the people in the Lower Ormeau might feel that this decision was "a quid pro quo for the authorities attempting to hold the line at Garvaghy Road this year".
However she asked the Lower Ormeau residents to accept the decision "on the strict understanding that the authorities enforce all other commission decisions impartially". She expressed confidence that if a protest was made by the residents it would be "made with dignity".