The Twaddell protest camp would be removed if the Orange Order are allowed to parade up the Crumlin Road past the Ardoyne shops on Saturday morning, a senior Orangeman has said.
The protest camp, which has sprung up in recent weeks in protest at the Parades Commission’s decision to stop the parade from completing its traditional Twelfth route, has been criticised by nationalists as it is situated at one of Belfast’s most sensitive interfaces.
On Sunday, the Orange Order revealed that it had applied to parade past the Ardoyne shops at 9am on Saturday, in an attempt to resolve the impasse.
Yesterday, the Rev Mervyn Gibson told the News Letter: “We’ve heard, particularly from Gerry Kelly and republicans, that shopkeepers are suffering at Ardoyne shopfronts because of the civil rights camp.
“We’ve heard that it should be moved from the interface — this is an initiative to resolve all those things so there’s nothing in the background in Belfast that affects or taints the Haass negotiations.”
The Rev Gibson added that if the parade passes, “the rationale for the camp would go” – so it could be expected to be removed.
The east Belfast Presbyterian minister also appealed to the Parades Commission that the parade “be addressed on its merits” and not be rejected out of hand.
He insisted that there were “no preconditions” associated with the Orange statement, which said that if the parade passes on Saturday they will immediately engage in talks with nationalist residents about next year’s parade.
But Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly and the Sinn Fein-aligned CARA residents’ group played down suggestions that the Orange proposal may break the impasse.
Mr Kelly claimed the proposal was “not aimed at resolving the difficulties that exist. On the contrary it is yet another attempt to undermine the Parades Commission.”
The former Stormont junior minister added: “The Orange Order has announced its intentions through the media without discussing things with or providing prior notification to CARA. If they really wanted to assist community relations or the Haass process an initiative might be to move their protest off the interface at Twaddell.”
The Rev Gibson added: “I’m disappointed with their [Gerry Kelly and CARA’s] initial reaction.
“But maybe when they reflect on the matter they will see that this deals with the issue, which I believe republicans want and certainly the Orange family wants.”
But DUP MP Nigel Dodds said that there was a “contempt for unionist tradition and Orange tradition” from Sinn Fein and accused republicans of “knee-jerk negativity and intransigence”.
He told the BBC: “We’ve been told for years that the problem was not morning parades. So what have the Orange Order done? They’ve sat down and said ‘Let’s deal with this situation based on the talks that we’ve had previously and let’s have a morning parade back up here.’
“And we’re now told: That’s not good enough because there’s some kind of talk about process.”
UUP councillor Mark Cosgrove, who was involved in the discussions which led to Sunday’s proposal, said he was disappointed with Sinn Fein and CARA’s response.
“They need to show leadership. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of people who live in the nationalist community and the unionist community want this issue to be resolved.
“Applying to march at 9am on a Saturday morning is a significant opportunity to resolve this and I think that playing to the lowest common dissident denominator is not what leadership is about.
“In the Haass talks, if there is to be any opportunity or possibility of mutual tolerance and mutual respect, it is issues such as the Crumlin Road and the Ardoyne shops which need to be solvable.”
NI21’s John McCallister said that the PSNI had spent £15.2 million policing street protests and unrest since April 2012, with costs still increasing.
He said that those costs were hampering police investigations into serious criminality.