With the summer marching season approaching and the Stormont parties further apart than ever, the US peace envoy Richard Haass has ruled out returning to Ireland to broker a deal on parades, flags and the legacy of the conflict.
Mr Haass said while he remained interested in the process, his formal role had ended. He was speaking after a visit to meet 26-County foreign affairs minister Eamon Gilmore in Dublin.
Proposals drafted by Haass and his associate, Meghan O Sullivan, remain on the table but there has been no interest by unionists in forging a lasting deal. In January, Sinn Fein and the SDLP backed the Haass blueprint but the DUP and UUP demanded significant changes.
Since then, controversies over a deal for ‘on-the-run’ republicans (OTRs) and the British government’s rejection of a new inquiry into the Ballymurphy massacre, have made the situation more difficult.
A new marching season is now underway, and with it, a new attempt by the anti-Catholic Orange Order to force one of their most offensive parades through nationalist communities in north Belfast. A fresh application has been made to complete the most controversial Orange march through Ardoyne, which has been blocked since July 12th last year.
The anniversary of a 17th century battle victory by Protestant settlers over Catholics, ‘the Twelfth’ is the high point of the unionist marching season.
An encampment was set up by Orangemen last year, and has continued ever since, with nightly demonstrations and attempts to intimidate Ardoyne residents. Located at Twadddell Avenue, near the edge of the nationalist area, it has reportedly cost almost ten million pounds to police since last year.
The Orangemen have now applied to “complete” their march on the morning of Saturday, June 7 as a “last push” before ‘the Twelfth’ anniversary. Organisers say the parade will involve two bands as well as 140 participants.
Some groups involved in the ongoing parades dispute are due to take part in talks, part of an initiative “facilitated” by Catholic Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown and Church of Ireland Bishop of Connor Alan Abernethy.
However, the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective, which is opposed to loyalist parades through the nationalist district, was not invited. Spokesman Dee Fennell this week said he was “disappointed” that his group has been excluded.
“I have a long standing personal relationship with Donal McKeown and it would have been easy for him to get in touch with me,” he said.
Mr Fennell also revealed his group has written to the three Protestant marching orders, the Orange Order, Apprentice Boys and Royal Black Institution, to seek direct talks. He added that any initiative that does not involve his group “does not have the support of Ardoyne Residents” and that any loyal order parade past nationalist homes in Ardoyne will be opposed.
Meanwhile, nationalist politicians have warned there could be “serious consequences” if the march goes ahead next week. High-level delegations from both the SDLP and Sinn Fein met the parades commission on Wednesday amid concerns over speculation that the Orange Order has been given private “assurances” that the parade will be allowed to go ahead.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said “repeated applications to get the Parades Commission to overturn last year’s determination are a clear attempt to undermine the integrity of the commission”.
“The last thing the community in Ardoyne needs is another parade,” he said. “This latest application should be refused on the same grounds as last year.”