Ardoyne confrontation was like Holy Cross dispute, says priest

Father Gary Donegan
Father Gary Donegan

Saturday’s confrontation with protesters at Ardoyne was reminiscent of the Holy Cross dispute 15 years ago, a north Belfast priest has said.

In 2001, youngsters and parents were subjected to sectarian taunts by loyalists as they made their way to Holy Cross Primary School at the notorious interface.

On Saturday, one of Northern Ireland’s most controversial parades passed off peacefully after Orangemen were granted permission to march past the Ardoyne shops following a landmark deal ending a three-year dispute between the loyal orders and nationalist residents.

Father Gary Donegan was confronted by supporters of the nationalist Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC), who opposed the agreement.

He told the BBC: “I’m not someone who’s easily shocked but, I suppose, the nature of it and the strength of some of the language took me back to 2001 during the Holy Cross blockade.”

GARC supporters shouted “you’re a disgrace”, “shame” and “you don’t live here” at the priest.

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 GARC chanted “walk of shame”.

Father Donegan added: “You could almost expect that (during the Holy Cross dispute) because there was a sectarian element to that, but this was from within my own community, so I was kind of taken back by it to some extent.

“The irony was that quite a few of the protagonists, I’ve been involved directly in pastoral situations in their lives, and been involved in very serious situations in their lives.”

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.