No sign of Covenant march talks
No consultations have yet taken place with residents of a nationalist area which 20,000 members of the anti-Catholic Orange Order and thousands more supporters are due to parade past later this month.
Tensions have been high in the area of north Belfast since loyalists breached Parades Commission determinations and played sectarian music while passing a Catholic church in August.
Violence also erupted earlier this month when loyalist rioters clashed with the PSNI in the wake of a republican commemoration in the area.
The Royal Black Institution, closely linked to the Orange Order, has since apologised to the clergy and parishioners of St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street for offence caused during its ‘Last Saturday’ march.
Unionists have also claimed that “quiet conversations” are ongoing in an attempt to defuse the situation ahead of the giant Ulster Covenant centenary parade on September 29.
The parade, to mark the anniversary of the first declaration of loyalist militancy in the north of Ireland, is planned to be the largest seen in the North for decades.
However, nationalist residents spokesman Frank Dempsey said any hope that mediation would take place ahead of the march was “fading fast”. The Carrick Hill spokesman said tensions remain high in the area and talks between all parties, including residents, were essential to finding a resolution.
Residents have lodged an application with the Parades Commission to hold a protest at the top of Donegall Street on the morning of September 29. They will also meet with the commission next week to make submissions on concerns about the parade.
“After the Black Preceptory apology people seem to think that there are behind-the-scenes talks going on that involve residents.
“However, that couldn’t be further from the truth as to date -- and despite us putting the invitation out through a third party -- no-one from the Orange Orders or any of the Unionist political parties has contacted us.
“We have not received so much as a phone call.”
Mr Dempsey added that the intended route of the parade, marking 100 years since the signing of the Ulster Covenant, impacted on a significant number of residents who live in the area.
An attempt by loyalist hardliners to elevate tensions by applying for permission for a Covenant ‘feeder’ parade past the nationalist Ardoyne area has since been withdrawn, reportedly following a ‘high level’ intervention by senior Orangemen.
Local Sinn Fein councillor Conor Maskey warned that the ‘loyal orders’ may be engaging in a PR exercise.
“The Loyal Orders are saying that conversations ‘are taking place away from the public gaze’ and as it is not with the residents, who is it that they are talking to?” he asked.
Meanwhile, a motion of no confidence in DUP minister Nelson McCausland over his comments on sectarian parades may yet gain the necessary support at the Stormont Assembly.
McCausland, a DUP hardliner, backed the illegal march by loyalists past St Patrick’s church. The march, which involved scores of gestures and acts of sectarian abuse, was described as an act of “civil disobedience” by the controversial Minister.
The leader of the small nationalist SDLP party, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, said he was waiting for confirmation from Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party ahead of Tuesday’s vote, which nationalists have said could mark a turning point in Stormont’s approach to the parades issue.