There is massive support from rural Orangemen for their city brethren protesting at Twaddell Avenue after being stopped returning home on the Twelfth night, a senior Orange Order figure has said.
The Institution’s grand secretary, Drew Nelson, said that he had been “surprised” at the level of support from country Orangemen for the protests in north Belfast.
There have been suggestions of a rural/urban split in the Order, with many rural Orangemen horrified at images of Orangemen in sashes attacking police lines on the Twelfth night.
And last month the apparent lack of an Orange strategy in north Belfast was separately questioned by a senior Royal Black figure and by the UDA.
But Mr Nelson, who is himself a country Orangeman, told the News Letter there was “very widespread and solid sympathy throughout the Institution for how the Ligoniel lodges have been treated this year by the Parades Commission”.
He said: “I thought there perhaps would have been a stronger reaction in the rural areas to say, ‘Well, they maybe need to do things differently’.
“But in fact there’s been a very strong train of thought that they’ve been very badly treated and, ‘Can you blame them?’.”
Mr Nelson said that just because vast numbers of Orangemen were not coming from the country into north Belfast — as happened at Drumcree — should not be read as a sign that there was little support for the peaceful protest which is continuing at the junction of Twaddell Avenue and Ardoyne roundabout.
“The difference is that in Drumcree [the Orange Order] called for people to go but in Belfast, because of the nature of where it is and the volatility of the situation in Belfast at the moment, they have not called for people from the country to come in and support it.
“There hasn’t been the recognition by the authorities of how responsibly the Belfast leadership have handled this because it would have been easy for the leadership of the Orange Order in Belfast to have made a public call for people to come and support them.
“If they had done that in the highly volatile circumstances which we’ve had this year, I think the situation would have been much worse.”
The grand secretary said that things had “gone wrong on the first couple of nights” but said “tightly and well-marshalled” protests since then had been the right course of action and a “stabilising” factor.
Mr Nelson said that he was “not party” to any behind-the-scenes moves to resolve the impasse.
But he added: “Personally, I think that the outstanding Ligioniel parade issue will be resolved.
“I hope that will be sooner rather than later and I hope that our membership in Belfast are thinking of different ways of doing things which I think will see them through this situation.”
Mr Nelson added that he was “fairly confident that the same unending stalemate that has happened in Drumcree will not happen in north Belfast”.
A protest camp established by local people and supported by the Orange Order was opened up to the media last week.
The camp, which is centred around a caravan, is situated just across from the Ardoyne shopfronts at the Ardoyne roundabout on the Crumlin Road.
Last week, the PSNI said that the protest and riots in the area had cost taxpayers more than £3 million in a month.
Police said that it cost £300,000 a week to police the protest, which is held at one of the most sensitive loyalist/republican interfaces in Belfast.