Orange leaders open to further talks with Ardoyne residents

Orange Order chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson
Orange Order chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson

Orange Order leaders are hopeful of further dialogue with Ardoyne residents despite face-to-face talks breaking up without agreement.

In a ground-breaking move, an Orange Order delegation met with Crumlin Ardoyne Residents’ Association (CARA) over the weekend to discuss the annual Twelfth of July parade.

CARA is one of two groups that stage protests when the Ligoniel lodges pass the Ardoyne shopfronts on their way home from the main Belfast demonstration each year.

Last year violence followed the feeder parade with nationalist youths in Brompton Park attacking police lines with fireworks and petrol bombs for several hours.

The Parades Commission has not yet issued its determination regarding this year’s Twelfth parade past Ardoyne.

Orange Order county grand chaplain for Belfast, Rev Mervyn Gibson, said the talks had been full and frank with no walkouts, but said there would be no further discussions ahead of this week’s parade.

“We did not go in to ask permission to walk on the Crumlin Road because I don’t think anybody in Northern Ireland should have to ask anybody else’s permission to walk on a road.

“We went in to explain our position and to listen and understand the concerns that people have,” he said.

The hardline Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective, which is also opposed to Orange Order marches, dismissed the weekend discussions as a cynical ploy.

Although there were no representatives from the main unionist parties present, CARA had invited Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly and the SDLP’s Alban Maginness.

Rev Gibson said he was unaware beforehand who would be attending on behalf of the residents but had no difficulties with the CARA delegation.

“We were there to find out if there was any way we could show respect that wasn’t being shown – we want a peaceful day for everyone and we won’t be found wanting,” he said.

The talks – held in Belfast’s city hall – followed a call from the Twaddell and Woodvale Residents’ Association for the Orange lodges to engage with CARA in the wake of three recent peaceful parades in north Belfast.

It is understood CARA’s position is that no evening parade should pass the Ardoyne shops on the Twelfth.

CARA spokesman Joe Marley told the BBC that although he did not believe a solution could be found before Friday’s parade, he said residents felt the discussions had been worthwhile.

“I think the engagement was fairly positive from our perspective.

“It was significant because it was the first time local lodges have actually directly engaged with local residents and I think people came with genuine intent,” Mr Marley said.

The Ulster Unionist Party said it regretted the talks had broken down without agreement.

UUP councillor Mark Cosgrove, who sits on the Belfast Parades Forum, said: “I would like to commend those members of the local Orange lodges and residents in trying to reach an outcome that would facilitate an outward and return parade on the Twelfth.

“After the very successful parading season so far, it is a matter of regret that there was no agreement to facilitate a five-minute walk past the shops in the morning and at 7pm, and as a result of that failure, responsibility has now transferred to the Parades Commission.

“Tolerance and mutual respect are the only way forward and I hope that any future talks do reach an agreed outcome.”

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said the dialogue was “highly significant” and welcome.

“The talks were conducted in a positive, respectful manner, with all parties working towards a long term, peaceful solution to the issue of parading in this part of north Belfast,” he said.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said: “While the talks were very close to the 12th of July parades, anytime is the right time to begin a process of genuine dialogue.”