Pressure was put on politicians at a loyalist parade on Thursday night, marking a major milestone in the still-unresolved Twaddell Avenue protest.
The event saw speakers denounce the lack of progress in solving the controversial impasse, which began when Belfast Orangemen were barred from completing the return leg of their Twelfth parade in 2013 – with Thursday marking 1,000 days since the protests against the decision began.
Since that year, marchers have not been able to pass the Twaddell roundabout and head up the Crumlin Road – a main road running between the loyalist Woodvale area and the republican Ardoyne.
On Thursday, a long column of Orangemen from across the Province strode through the north-west of the city, accompanied by flute bands, before converging on the Twaddell roundabout – which was blocked by a series of police vans.
Once they assembled, senior Orangeman George Chittick told the crowds that unionists who are currently vying to clinch or retain Assembly seats should “spell out clearly before the coming election what steps you will you take to ensure change”.
Another speaker – Scotsman Kris McGurk delivered a stern rebuke to politicians, asking how many more days they need to resolve the issue.
With the low whirr of a police helicopter overhead, Mr Chittick, Belfast County Grand Master, was first to speak as he took to a makeshift scaffolding stage draped in a Union flag, erected just beside the police vans.
He castigated the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers for having “continually refused to address the issue” of parading, and branded the Parades Commission themselves “muppets” – asking why the commission’s workings have not been reviewed in over 10 years.
He concluded with this message: “To all our local Unionist political parties who started this campaign with us I would urge you to spell out clearly before the coming election what steps you will you take to ensure change – what pressure you will put on the Westminster administration to change and what sanctions you will take against republicans and nationalists when they police our culture through the farce that is the Parades Commission...
“A fundamental change to parading legislation is not an option for the future but a requirement.
“We will continue to agitate and protest until fairness and equality for all is achieved, or as we put it civil and religious liberty for all and special privileges for none.
“The campaign will continue. The message is clear from the gathering here this evening – let them home.”
Next to speak was Mr McGurk. The Glasgow man is a member of the Regimental Blues – a loyalist pressure group operating on Scotland.
He told the audience: “You have given your elected representatives 1,000 days to resolve this. and for 1,000 days they have done very little to achieve a result.
“We do not need election posters on every lamppost. We do not need false promises. We need results... In the run-up to the election, the ongoing situation in this area of Belfast cannot be ignored.
“How many more days, weeks, months and years do you need to resolve this?
“Because one thing has been made clear to me this week by the people – they will not be moving, they will not be giving up, and they will not surrender!”
There was no sign of disorder, and the protestors then rapidly dispersed.
One of those in attendance, Mark McDonald, 32 and from Newtownards LOL4, said that he had come because “the Orange Order is a brotherhood – we support each other”.
He said that politicians, including unionists, “need to have a long, hard look at themselves... they need to work together to find a resolution”.
Bushmills man John Rodgers, aged 53 and from Giant’s Causeway LOL1195, said of the Twaddell protestors: “They’ve got stamina.”
Asked what his reaction would be if the Parades Commission did finally relent, he said: “Joy.”
Speaking ahead of the march, Gerald Solinas, one of the main figures behind the Twaddell protest, said: “My personal message that I’d hope after the May elections, unionist politicians come together to put their shoulders to the wheel to achieve reform of parading legislation.”