An Orange Order parade at the heart of one of Northern Ireland’s most protracted marching disputes will take place today.
Permission for the contentious procession past the nationalist Ardoyne in north Belfast was granted after an historic deal ended a three-year stand-off between the loyal orders and nationalist residents that has cost over £21 million to police.
The Parades Commission - a Government-appointed adjudication body - ruled Orangemen from three lodges could march along the contested stretch of Crumlin Road under strict conditions from 8.30am.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland is expected to mount a significant security operation with more than 600 officers on duty to enforce the Commission’s determination plus an air support unit.
The landmark accord between the Orange Order and the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents’ Association (Cara) was struck after protracted negotiations, mediated by cleric Reverend Harold Good and businessman Jim Roddy.
It allows Orangemen and two bands to complete the outstanding leg of their 2013 Twelfth of July commemorations past a sectarian flashpoint where serious rioting has erupted in the past.
It was agreed that bands would only play hymns as marchers pass the disputed section at Ardoyne while the lodges would limit the number of banners on display.
A so-called protest loyalist camp in the nearby Twaddell area will also be dismantled as soon as the demonstration reaches its end destination.
In return, the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents’ Group (CARA) did not request Parades Commission permission for a protest.
Going forward, the lodges have agreed not to apply for any more return parades on the Twelfth until a wider agreement on the issue is reached. Cara will not protest at the lodges’ already permitted outward parade on the morning of the Twelfth.
A local community forum including representatives of Cara and the loyal orders will also be convened with the aim of improving community relations in the area.
In a statement, the Parades Commission said the deal represented an opportunity for resolution of the decades-long parading disputes at Crumlin Road.
Orange Order County Grand Master George Chittick said he looked forward to completion of the 2013 parade while Cara spokesman Joe Marley said there was a new spirit of co-operation.
Meanwhile, a hardline residents group, not involved in the negotiations, is expected to stage a counter protest.
The Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective (Garc) which was widely blamed for orchestrating violence following previous loyal order parades described the agreement as a “shady deal”.
The group’s picket has been limited to 60 people and confined to a specific section of Crumlin Road.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said the policing operation would be proportionate.
He said: “PSNI welcomed the local agreement and we will be implementing an appropriate and proportionate policing operation in the north Belfast area to ensure that the various Northern Ireland Parades Commission determinations are upheld.
“We are committed to keeping people safe and we will be working with the community to do just that.”