Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has confirmed that he has met with the Protestant Orange Order to discuss the infamous Drumcree parade in Portadown.
It is believed to be the first time that senior Orangemen have met Mr Adams.
The talks, which were held in Belfast last week, are part of an attempt by the party to resolve the issue of parading in the Portadown area.
In the late 90’s, peaceful sit-down protests by the nationalist residents of the town against triumphalist Orange parades through their community led to violent confrontations with the police and international media attention.
Although it is accepted no deal is possible ahead of Sunday week’s contentious Drumcree parade, Sinn Féin believes that the opening of dialogue between Mr Adams and the Portadown group creates possibilities for a future resolution of the issue.
“We had an informative and useful discussion about Orangeism and its place in modern Ireland,” said Mr Adams.
“I also made it clear to them that it was our firm view that there is no rationale for an Orange parade along the Garvaghy Road.
“Furthermore I urged them to involve themselves in a process of inclusive dialogue with the representatives of the Garvaghy Road community,” Mr Adams said.
Concerns were expressed by local nationalists that the meeting took place without first informing the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition or its chairman, Breandan Mac Cionnaith.
Mr Mac Cionnaith has spearheaded local opposition to Orangemen parading along the Garvaghy Road since 1995. The Orange Order has always refused to hold direct talks with Mr Mac Cionnaith.
Mr Mac Cionnaith said his relations with Sinn Féin were “cordial” and that the meeting was a matter between Sinn Féin and the local Orangemen.
“I am not concerned,” he said. “This week we presented the Parades Commission with a local survey showing that 85 per cent of nationalists believed that there are alternative routes for the Orangemen to parade along other than Garvaghy Road.”
The Parades Commission yesterday again banned the Orangemen from marching past nationalist homes on the Garvaghy Road on Sunday week.
Meanwhile, tensions remain high ahead of a contentious Orange Order parade in west Belfast this weekend.
On Saturday more than 1,000 Orangemen are due to take part in the Whiterock parade along the Springfield Road in west Belfast.
The Parades Commission has ruled that 50 loyalists can march through the city’s main “peaceline” during Saturday’s annual Whiterock parade into a republican heartland.
Tensions have increased since loyalists pulled out of talks with nationalist residents on Tuesday aimed at managing Saturday’s parade.
Nationalists accused loyalists of attempting to increase fears after applications for two “feeder parades” going through the republican Ardoyne area in north Belfast were only withdrawn yesterday afternoon.
Last weekend, the Orange Order’s contentious ‘Tour of the North’ parade passed off peacefully through north Belfast after a deal was brokered between march organisers and nationalist residents.
The agreement for that march came when the Orange Order agreed promised to steer their parade away from the Ardoyne shops flashpoint.