Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams held talks with a loyalist group today [Monday] aimed at defusing tensions over sectarian parades in north Belfast.
The talks were held amid fears of further trouble at the Ardoyne interface here a nationalist sit-down protest parade was brutally forced from the path of an Orange Order parade by the PSNI police on July 12th. Serious rioting subsequently erupted in the strongly republican area, which continued for several nights.
None of the Protestant marching organisations nor the local residents organisation who are involved in the dispute, the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC), took part in the talks. However, both sides said it was the beginning of a more long-term discussion.
Mr Adams said: “I found it a very useful exchange. We listened very, very intently to what our friends had to say about all of these issues and their sense of themselves and their sense of their section of our community in this city of Belfast.
“We are not going to sort all of this out in one meeting, these are big issues, and we have to remind ourselves of where we have all come from and how difficult this process of society building and transition is for everyone.”
Mr Adams expressed hopes that the Orange Order, who have yet to accept his offer of talks, will eventually agree to similar discussions. He said the talks could reconvene in September.
Meanwhile, GARC criticised the decision by the Apprentice Boys to include the Shankill Star Flute Band in its march through Ardoyne on August 14th.
The band commemorates unionist paramilitary murderer Brian Robinson, who killed local Ardoyne man Paddy McKenna. Mr McKenna was shot dead by the UVF man near the route of the planned march.
GARC said the band’s inclusion caused grave offense to residents across greater Ardoyne who held Mr McKenna in high esteem, as well as other families in the community who also suffered the loss of family members at the hands of the UVF.
“If the insensitive Parades Commission allow this march the blame for unwelcome violence lies fully with those marching where they are cleary not wanted,” according to a statement posted on the group’s website.
“It will also be with those who permit this act of bigotry and the PSNI who will force it through our community, against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Ardoyne residents.
“On behalf of those residents, the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) stress that the Apprentice Boys of Derry and the Shankill Star Flute Band are not welcome in our community. Their insistence on marching through our area is an insult and we strongly demand both organisations withdraw their contention to march.”
Meanwhile, a parish priest in County Antrim has revealed that there has been a sectarian attack on his church almost every day over the marching season.
In 1999, loyalists besieged the church in a mass intimidation of the local Catholic community related to marching season tensions.
In the latest incident white paint was thrown at the front door of the Church of Our Lady in Harryville on the outskirts of Ballymena on Saturday night.
In recent weeks the church has been attacked with bottles, stones and bricks.
Parish priest Fr Paddy Delargy said there had been an incident every day since the Twelfth.
“At this time of the year, after the Twelfth, it would be quite usual, for people to be throwing sticks, stones, bottles and bricks in the direction of the church.
“Every morning the caretaker would have to clear those away,” he said.
“Over recent weeks that has got a little more intense. That is just typical of the area unfortunately.”
Fr Delargy said he did not think that tensions in the town were worse than in past years.
“I don’t think it is an indication of another Harryville siege or anything like that. It’s just what people seem to do in that area.”
Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay also condemned the attack.
“This is another clear example of some within the loyalist community trying to stir up tension over the summer period,” he said.
* Elsewhere, a statue of former Derry ‘governor’ George Walker was damaged in Derry in an apparent anti-Protestant attack on Thursday night.
Walker played a major role in the 1689 battle at the city. An arm was broken off his statue, and damage caused to a copper plaque dedicated to the 13 Apprentice Boys -- commemorated by the Apprentice Boys organisation -- who closed the gates of Derry’s city walls at the beginning of the battle.