Peaceful Orange Order parade at Ardoyne flashpoint 'a massive step forward'
A peaceful Orange Order parade past the Ardoyne flashpoint in Northern Ireland is a massive step forward, a community worker has said.
The north Belfast trouble spot had become a byword for conflict over many years on the Twelfth of July, but a deal struck between local residents saw a "relaxed" early morning demonstration replace a tightly restricted evening procession where violence always threatened.
Loyalist bandsmen from nearby Shankill and Ballysillan banged the Lambeg drum on the arterial Crumlin Road, followed by lines of white-shirted men wearing the Order's collarette, while only a handful of nationalist residents looked on.
Fr Gary Donegan, a Catholic priest who has spent years working in Ardoyne, said: "Every step that happens here, no matter how small, it is is massive."
There was a heavy police presence, mainly confined to residential side streets off the Crumlin Road.
But officers trained for riots never left their vehicles, remaining spectators to the noisy pageantry with which unionists celebrate their culture but which nationalists blamed for so much strife in recent years.
Fr Donegan added: "Every step I would count as a success.
"There are always going to be issues about parading. It is unique in Ardoyne in the sense that there were people who were killed in the vicinity of where the parades take place, so there is hyper-sensitivity about that."
He said there were more important issues for people in an area of social deprivation, like improving education, employment and housing and luring investors into a place previously blighted by violence.
"This area has nothing, it has no football pitch, it has no swimming baths, there is no infrastructure.
"The more normality takes place the more likelihood you will get a more thriving society.
"Who would want to come in and invest in a place where there is lockdown and possible civil disobedience?
"It is cutting off your nose to spite your face."
Thousands of Order members took part in parades across Northern Ireland on Wednesday as part of the Twelfth of July celebrations.
The events mark King William of Orange's victory over James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690.
On the Crumlin Road loyalist supporters greeted the Orangemen.
Two women dressed in bright orange tops and sunhats danced a jig as loyalist ballad The Sash was played, waving Union flags on sticks.
Michelle McDermott was among those who welcomed the march past the interface.
She said: "Respect was shown on both sides.
"There has been dialogue going on behind the scenes and there have been compromises made on both sides and it just shows it can be peaceful.
"Nobody wants sectarian symbols or paramilitary symbols going through a contentious area."
Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly, a veteran presence during years of violent strife in Ardoyne, said the march demonstrated a better face.
"The atmosphere is entirely different, there was a much more relaxed atmosphere, you can come here this morning with some relief and some knowledge that it is going to be passed over in a very short period of time and relationships can be built upon that.
"Relationships amongst people, not amongst politicians, in this wide Ardoyne area can improve because we don't have to deal with the type of sectarianism that we have been dealing with up to now."
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