A republican protest against tomorrow’s planned Orange Order parade in north Belfast has passed off without incident .
Up to 400 PSNI officers were on the ground as residents group GARC (Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective) staged a demonstration this evening against an agreement aimed at resolving a long-running dispute in the area.
Protestors marched up to police lines holding a banner bearing the slogan “Ardoyne rejects SF/UVF imposed deals”.
A “lifelong” Ardoyne resident then read out a prepared statement on behalf of GARC before the crowd dispersed peacefully.
The demonstration went ahead despite pleas from both Sinn Fein and local church leaders to call the event off.
And the group is expected to hold another protest as the Orange Order parade makes its way along the Crumlin Road at 8.30am tomorrow.
The Parades Commission has ruled that tomorrow’s GARC protest must be restricted to 60 people.
The agreement to which GARC is opposed was announced last week between the Order and the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA). The ground-breaking deal allows the small Orange parade, made up of two bands and 250 participants, to pass the Ardoyne shops on its way to Ligoniel Orange Hall.
The three lodges involved have been prevented from making the return leg of their Twelfth of July parade along a stretch of the Crumlin Road since 2013 due to concerns over public disorder.
Once the parade has passed, the loyalist protest camp at Twaddell Avenue – which has cost an estimated £20m to police over the past three years – will also be dismantled. As part of the agreement, there will be no application from the Orange Order for further evening parades until a wider agreement with local residents has been reached.
A spokesperson for the Parades Commission said: “The agreement between the Orange Order and CARA presents an opportunity for resolution of the decades-long parading disputes at the Crumlin Road. The commission’s assessment is that there is evidence of support within the local north Belfast communities to achieve the agreement’s desired aims.”
Ahead of tonight’s GARC protest, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said: “We will be implementing an appropriate and proportionate policing operation in the north Belfast area on Friday evening and Saturday morning to ensure that the various Parades Commission determinations are upheld.”