A nationalist residents’ group in north Belfast has been accused of collapsing a ground-breaking deal on parades due to pressure from more hard-line elements.
Talks aimed at resolving the Ardoyne parading impasse are now very unlikely to resume before the Twelfth of July celebrations, an Orange Order source has said.
There had been hope of a deal between the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA) and the Ligoniel lodges – that would have allowed a small Orange parade along the contested section of Belfast’s Crumlin Road – but negotiations broke down ahead of a planned press conference on Monday.
An Orange Order source said he believed that statements opposing a deal being issued by the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) resulted in CARA “backing away” from the proposed agreement.
“We were capable, willing and ready to deliver on a deal but CARA didn’t sign up to it,” he said.
A determination by the Parades Commission has prevented three local lodges from completing the homeward leg of their Twelfth parade since July 2013.
Details of the new deal were to be announced at Monday’s press conference but it was called off earlier in the morning.
It is understood the latest talks initiative included Methodist cleric Rev Harold Good, Orange Order representatives, the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA), Sinn Fein and PUP representatives.
A businessman who has been involved in similar mediation deals in Londonderry was also involved. Jim Roddy, city centre manager in Londonderry, has been at the forefront of negotiations that resulted in a relatively trouble-free parading environment in the city.
In a joint statement released by Mr Roddy and Rev Good yesterday, they said there were some positives but no immediate resolution was possible.
They said: “Over the past few weeks we have spent some time taking soundings from various people with a view to finding a resolution to the issues surrounding parading and protests at the Twaddell/Crumlin Road interface.
“Despite some positive feedback on our ideas we have been unable to achieve agreement for a resolution at this moment in time.”
It is understood the arrangement would have resulted in a small number of morning parades going ahead, beginning this Friday for the Somme anniversary – unopposed by CARA, but no evening return parades by until further agreement could be reached. However, there has been strong opposition to the deal from one of the three Orange lodges involved as well as GARC.
Ballysillan LOL 1891 published a statement online saying the lodge has “accepted no deal and will not be taking part in the parade on the 1 July (Friday morning) past Ardoyne shops”.
The other two Ligoniel lodges remain in favour of the proposed deal.
In an official statement, the County Grand Lodge of Belfast said it “very much regrets the initiative to resolve the Crumlin Road impasse” did not succeed.
It added: “We thank those involved for their efforts and input. The County remains committed to supporting the Ligoniel lodges complete their Twelfth of July 2013 parade.”
CARA outlined details of the proposed agreement to local residents at a public meeting on Monday night.
The group’s members then met privately to discuss feedback from the meeting and were then expected to endorse the deal – despite some outspoken views, against any parades taking place, being voiced at the public meeting.
Joe Marley from CARA said he was cynical about the source that blamed CARA for the breakdown of the deal.
“It is worthy to thank Jim Roddy and Harold Good for their efforts but unfortunately we were not able to reach agreement,” he said.
“CARA held a public meeting last week where it was clear that the desire of local residents was to find a lasting solution”.
Loyalists have been manning a protest camp close to the Ardoyne interface at Twaddell Avenue and staging nightly parades in an effort to have the Ligoniel return leg ban reversed.
The Orange Order source said it was not yet clear if the Parades Commission would give the go-ahead for any locally agreed parade if GARC threatened violence to prevent its progress.
In a statement rejecting the outcome of the negotiations, GARC said it would “reject any sordid deal between a political party and loyalist paramilitaries” that “rewards the loyal orders for putting our people under siege for the last three years”.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has praised all those involved in negotiations to resolve the parading dispute in the Ardoyne area.
He said his party “has been consistent in our support for resolving issues around parading and protests through genuine and inclusive dialogue involving local communities and parade organisers,” and added: “All of us in positions of political leadership have a responsibility to continue to do all in our power to support those in local communities involved in seeking resolution to contentious issues through dialogue.”
Leading Ulster Unionist and Orange Order member Danny Kennedy said an opportunity has been lost.
“We had proposed this as a game changer two years ago, so we are very disappointed that it has not yet been possible to reach final agreement which had seemed within touching distance. I look forward to a peaceful marching season and encourage everyone to show a spirit of generosity and respect,” he said.
SDLP North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said the only way to reach a final agreement is through “direct, sustained and meaningful dialogue”.
Mrs Mallon said: “It is now important that all parties to this dispute redouble their efforts to secure a resolution. A lasting solution cannot be imposed, it will only come about through local agreement. It’s important that all sides get back around the table to resolve this issue.”
Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister also expressed disappointment that no resolution could be found on this occasion.
“It is disheartening this attempt failed, despite receiving backing from a residents’ group and a number of lodges. I would encourage everyone involved not to be deterred from continuing to seek a resolution.”