Orangemen are to seek permission for a march through north Belfast next weekend, which if it goes ahead, could bring about the removal of their three-year protest camp at a sectarian interface.
The plan was announced after it was endorsed at a meeting held CARA (Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association), a Sinn Fein-supported group on Friday night. However, the more hardline Greater Ardoyne Residents Coalition has vowed to continue to oppose sectarian parades by the anti-Catholic Orange Order.
Trumpeted as a breakthrough deal in a three-year dispute by the new British governor James Brokenshire and the Stormont First and Deputy First Ministers, it remains subject to the Parades Commission allowing the “return” parade by three Orange lodges next Saturday, October 1 at 8am.
The plan is to allow the lodges to “complete” their 2013 parade, with a commitment that there will be no future protests by residents, and that Orangemen will not apply for future evening parades without the support of CARA. It also calls for the complete dismantling of the Orangemen’s protest camp at the Twaddell interface.
CARA said the proposal represents the best plan for residents and businesses affected by the parade, the camp and the heavy PSNI presence in the area “and the constant tension that comes with that”.
But GARC angrily dismissed the reports and said there had been no agreement with the Ardoyne community. It described the plan as “a shady deal, heavily influenced by promises of millions of pounds in funding, between Sinn Fein and the [unionist paramilitary] UVF”.
“There has been no comprehensive consultation with residents,” they said. “A meeting of 30 or so invited people, mostly SF members from various parts of Belfast, is not a comprehensive consultation representative of a community numbering thousands.”
“Sinn Fein’s end of the bargain, that there will be no future residents’ protests, can not be guaranteed. GARC will continue to provide residents with the opportunity to demonstrate their opposition to Loyal Order marches through this area, while those who do deals with the UVF continue to count their blood money to get themselves to sleep at night.”
Spokesman Dee Fennell denied there had been any public consultation on the proposal.
“The faciltators were contacted on numerous occasions with requests for a meeting but refused to facilitate a meeting,” he said.
However, Sinn Fein north Belfast representative Gerry Kelly welcomed the deal as the “basis for new positivity”.
DUP leader and First Arlene Foster described the plan as a “significant step” and Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness welcomed the move as “a powerful endorsement of dialogue and inclusivity”.
In their first joint media effort since their controversial appointment of a new top ‘spin doctor’ to the office, former Belfast Telegraph editor David Gordon, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister endorsed the proposal in glowing terms.
“I said at the start of the summer that we all have a responsibility to show leadership and to continue to seek resolutions to contentious issues through discussion and to ensure any difficulties are identified and resolved peacefully. By doing so we become stronger as a community and a country,” Foster said.
“I thank all those involved. We want to build a future that is respectful, inclusive and vibrant. Northern Ireland can have a very bright future built on respect and celebration of diversity.”