One of Northern Ireland’s most controversial parades has passed off peacefully.
Orangemen were granted permission to march past a notorious sectarian flashpoint after a landmark deal ended a three-year dispute between the loyal orders and nationalist residents in north Belfast.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) mounted a massive security operation deploying more than 600 officers on the ground backed up by air support units.
The landmark accord between the Orange Order and the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents’ Association (Cara) was struck after protracted negotiations, mediated by the Rev Harold Good and businessman Jim Roddy.
It allowed Orangemen from three lodges and two bands to complete the outstanding leg of their 2013 Twelfth of July commemorations past an interface, the scene of serious rioting in the past.
As they passed a row of shops at Ardoyne, around 60 protesters from the hardline Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective (GARC), which was not involved in the talks, chanted “walk of shame”.
Marchers were cheered, applauded, hugged and kissed by loyalist supporters as they reached the end of the contested stretch of road.
Afterwards there were some brief scuffles between angry residents and the police.
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly and high profile Catholic priest Fr Gary Donegan were also confronted by protesters shouting “shame” and “sell out”.
It was agreed the bands would only play hymns as they passed the disputed section at Ardoyne, while the lodges would limit the number of banners on display.
A so-called protest camp in the nearby Twaddell area, where loyalists have staged weekly parades which have cost in excess of £20 million to police, is also being dismantled.
In return, Cara did not request Parades Commission permission for a protest.
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, which has been supported by Sinn Fein, and the loyal orders, will also be convened with the aim of improving community relations in the area.
The historic deal was endorsed by local politicians as well as the British and Irish Governments, and church and community leaders.
Spencer Beattie, Orange Order County Grand Master said there was a sense of “relief”.
He said: “The agreement reached did not come easy, but it is founded on mutual tolerance and respect.
“Going forward, we trust this positive atmosphere will prevail regarding future parades in north Belfast, including future return parades along the Crumlin Road.”
Gerry Kelly, who watched the parade, welcomed the peaceful atmosphere and said it heralded a new era for the area blighted by years of rioting when sectarian tensions spilled over.
He said: “Now we have the potential to move forward. I want this to open up many more good relationships.”