A loyal order parade central to a deal aimed at resolving Northern Ireland’s bitterest marching dispute has been granted official permission.
The Parades Commission - the Government-appointed adjudication panel for controversial processions and protests - has endorsed the proposed Orange Order march along the Crumlin Road past the nationalist Ardoyne in north Belfast early on Saturday morning.
The expected green light from the commission follows the historic agreement between Orangemen and a nationalist residents’ group on the long-standing impasse.
A Parades Commission spokesman said: “The Commission has determined that the proposed morning parade on October 1, 2016 as part of a wider parading agreement may proceed under specific conditions along its notified route of the Crumlin Road.”
The Twaddell/Ardoyne flashpoint has previously witnessed serious loyalist and republican rioting when tensions linked to the contentious Orange march boiled over on the main date in the loyal order parading calendar - the Twelfth of July.
A 24/7 loyalist protest camp was set up at the sectarian interface in 2013 when the Parades Commission prevented Orangemen belonging to three Orange lodges passing the nationalist Ardoyne as they returned from traditional Twelfth commemorations.
Nightly protests were held in the nearby unionist Woodvale/Twaddell area in the years since, with a protest parade every Saturday.
The policing operation at the site has cost in excess of £20 million over the past three years.
After protracted negotiations, mediated by cleric Reverend Harold Good and businessman Jim Roddy, an accord between the three lodges and the main nationalist residents group - the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (Cara) - was announced last week.
It envisaged the Orangemen completing the outstanding leg of their 2013 parade on Saturday morning at 8.30am.
It was agreed that the Orangemen’s accompanying bands will only play hymns as the parade passes the disputed stretch of the Crumlin Road while the lodges will limit the number of banners they display.
In return, Cara did not apply to the Parades Commission to protest at the parade.
Once the parade is completed, the loyalist camp at the interface will be dismantled and all associated protests will end.
Going forward, the lodges have agreed not to apply for any more return parades on the Twelfth until a wider agreement on the issue is reached. Cara will not protest at the lodges’ already permitted outward parade on the morning of the Twelfth.
A local community forum including representatives of Cara and the loyal orders will also be convened with the aim of improving community relations in the area.
A more hard-line residents group in the Ardoyne - the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (Garc) - has opposed the agreement and claimed there was insufficient consultation with nationalists in the area.
Garc intends to hold a rally on Friday night to voice it opposition and also stage a protest as the parade passes on Saturday.
The Parades Commission spokesman 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.
“The initiative raises expectations for improved community relations in local north Belfast communities and may address the severe disruption to the life of the local community caused by parades and protests.
“The Commission reflected fully in its decision concerns about the sustainability of the agreement, the consultation process around it, and the objections to the proposed October 1 parade as part of the agreement.
“The Commission has considered that the agreement represents new information and evidence sufficient to vary, for the proposed parade on October 1, 2016, its long-standing legal response to the parading dispute on the Crumlin Road.”