Saturday’s Ardoyne parade is a major step forward in resolving a long-running parading sore.
The deal to complete the 2013 return leg of three Ligoniel lodges past a north Belfast interface gives hope of wider agreement on parading.
After all, loyal order parades in Londonderry, which is mostly nationalist, are uncontentious, as are such parades in Rossnowlagh in Donegal, a county in which Protestants make up a tiny minority of the population.
The agreement between Orangemen and a nationalist residents’ association, the Crumlin Road Residents Association (Cara), includes the dismantling of the loyalist protest camp at Twaddell. This is welcome – the camp near the Ardoyne shops was a protest that had over time lost any effectiveness it ever had and was costing a lot of money to police.
The rage that led to the camp, however, is easy to understand. In 2012, the Parades Commission accommodated a provocative, manufactured dissident republican parade (timed to coincide with the Orange return from the Field) by placing an impossible deadline on the return. Orangemen complied with its absurdity, bussing themselves to the shops.
Dissidents then rioted wildly, and were rewarded by the commission with a full ban on Orangemen the following year – a ban that has stayed in place throughout, as at Drumcree, where dissidents secured a permanent prohibition.
While welcoming Saturday’s deal, Spencer Beattie, Orange Order County Grand Master, was scathing about the commission, saying that through “this long process [it has] only served to impede progress”. The frustration is well founded.
But the most important aspect of this latest deal is the way in which Sinn Fein and Cara have isolated the dissidents, whose ugliness and intransigence was apparent on Saturday.
It is a welcome split, and the deal that it has enabled is a template for discussions over the small number of needlessly contentious brief annual parades in the Province.