Nationalist residents have welcomed talks involving the Protestant marching orders over their provocative and triumphalist parades through Catholic areas in the summer months.
In what some see as a breakthrough, members of the unionist ‘North and West Belfast Parades and Cultural Forum’ have met residents’ groups from Ardoyne and the Springfield Road, where violence has broken out in recent years.
Senior members of the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys organisation were involved in the talks. The orders have traditionally refused to talk to residents’ groups they identify as “fronts for Sinn Fein/IRA”.
The Ardoyne and Whiterock parades are seen as the marching season’s most contentious.
This week nationalist residents from Ardoyne met Apprentice Boys spokesman Tommy Cheevers and Shankill Orangeman John MacVicar at the offices of the Parades Commission in central Belfast.
Forum representatives also met nationalists from the Springfield Road to discuss the Whiterock parades.
Community Relations Council chief executive Duncan Morrow is to chair further talks about the Whiterock parade, while British academic Bob Fryar will oversee discussions about Ardoyne in north Belfast.
It is understood two members of the Parades Commission will also take part in the talks process.
Confirming his involvement, Mr Morrow said he was hopeful of progress and believed there was “goodwill and definitely a willingness to engage” on both sides.
The Ardoyne Parades Dialogue Group (APDG) spokesman Joe Marley described the discussions as a “positive first step”.
However, active legal proceedings by Garvaghy Road residents over the make-up of the Parades Commission are understood to have stalled similar talks on the Drumcree march in Portadown, traditionally the most contentious parade route.
The High Court challenge got a boost yesterday after a judge decided to admit new evidence that British officials were biased in favour of unionists and Protestant marching orders.
John Duffy, a resident of Portadown’s Garvaghy Road, has been granted leave for a judicial review of the appointment of Orange Order members David Burrows and Donald Mackay. Mr Duffy is claiming a conflict of interest as the commission has to rule every year on the contentious Drumcree parade.
His lawyers have pointed out that the commission has only one nationalist representative -- former west Belfast MP Dr Joe Hendron.
Meanwhile, the Orange Order and SDLP are to meet for the first time next week. They will meet at Stormont on Tuesday for talks about parades.