A ground-breaking deal to end one of Northern Ireland’s most contentious parade disputes has been welcomed by church, political and community leaders.
As a result of negotiations involving the Orange Order and an Ardoyne residents group, three Orange lodges from Ligoniel will be able to complete the homeward leg of their 2013 Twelfth of July parade past the Ardoyne shop fronts.
Parades Commission determinations have prevented the Ligoniel lodges from walking back along a contested stretch of the Crumlin Road, and there have been violent clashes in the area over a number of years involving nationalist protestors, loyalists and police.
However, a deal was struck on Friday which will allow a one-off parade this Saturday – unopposed by the Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA) – in return for an assurance the lodges will not to apply for any more return parades on the Twelfth until a wider agreement on the issue is reached.
The Orange Order is expected to submit details of the proposal to the Parades Commission today for approval.
Once the parade is completed, the loyalist protest camp at Twaddell Avenue will be dismantled as part of the agreement overseen by mediators Reverend Harold Good and businessman Jim Roddy.
Commenting on the GARC (Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective) rejection of the proposal as a “shady deal,” an Orange source said “it’s up to the PSNI” to deal with any violent protests.
First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the development as a “significant step.”
Mrs Foster said: “The agreement reached between three Orange Order lodges in north Belfast and Ardoyne residents representatives comes about following engagement in a local dialogue process.
“The understanding they have reached is a welcome development and is a significant step given this has been an initiative between the Orange and local residents.”
The first minister thanked all those involved in the negotiations and added: “I said at the start of the summer that we all have a responsibility to show leadership and to continue to seek resolutions to contentious issues through discussion and to ensure any difficulties are identified and resolved peacefully. By doing so we become stronger as a community and a country.
“We want to build a future that is respectful, inclusive and vibrant. Northern Ireland can have a very bright future built on respect and celebration of diversity.”
Her DUP colleague and MP for the area Nigel Dodds also welcomed news of the breakthrough.
Mr Dodds said: “It remains to be seen whether the problems created by the Parades Commission and the intolerance of the unionist identity can be tackled in the long run. We support the fundamental right of peaceful assembly and no one should have a veto over its exercise.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “We must resolve disagreements regarding parades, identity, culture and tradition through dialogue so that difference is celebrated and respected.
“The next phase of our political and peace processes must be the development of a real reconciliation process.”
The senior Sinn Fein figure added: “As leaders we will work with Executive colleagues to ensure tolerance, equality and mutual respect are key tenets of our new shared future.”
Belfast police commander, Chief Superintendent Chris Noble, said the police operation around the Twaddell/Ardoyne interface would be scaled back.
He said: “I and my officers look forward to stepping back from the significant policing operation that has been ongoing for some time. We will continue to work with all communities to secure a long-term resolution of the issues surrounding parades and protests in Belfast.”
When the agreement was announced on Friday night, both Secretary of State James Brokenshire and the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan welcomed the development.
Mr Brokenshire said: “This is a clear demonstration that local dialogue can work, and offers up the best chance of resolving disputes like this.”
Nightly and weekend protests have been held in unionist Woodvale/Twaddell area since the return leg of the Twelfth parade was banned in 2013. in the years since, with a protest parade every Saturday.
The policing operation at Twaddell has cost in excess of £20 million over the three years.
The County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast said it supports the Ligoniel lodges in the agreement that has been reached, and added: “The Grand Lodge supports local solutions for local situations. However, we are mindful that there are other parts of Northern Ireland where no resolutions have as yet been found regarding parades and brethren continue to protest. They too have our full support.”
A local community forum – including representatives of CARA and the loyal orders – is being set up with the aim of improving community relations in the area.
North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon welcomed the deal but urged caution.
“In all situations where trust is absent, the detail of any deal is critical. It is important to recognise that the completely voluntary nature of this deal between CARA and the Orange Order is a source of genuine anxiety and real concern for the people of Ardoyne given all of the previous actions of the Orange Order and the behaviour of local lodges, bands and supporters particularly over the last three years,” she said.
“These concerns were strongly expressed by the residents who attended the public meeting where this deal was revealed. While this deal can be welcomed now, previous experience over many years warrants an air of caution.”