Northern Ireland

Orange Order march and talks offer criticised by residents

Protester falling from roof
Image caption One protester was flung from the roof of a police Land Rover after being sprayed by a police water cannon.

An application by the Orange Order to complete a march past the Ardoyne shops has been criticised by Sinn Féin and a local residents' group.

The Order said in a statement on Sunday that talks with residents could start immediately after the parade.

On 12 July, the Parades Commission blocked the march along the stretch of road in north Belfast.

Forty-four police officers were injured during three nights of rioting after the march was stopped.

The Order had alerted the media to a news facility at a protest camp at Twaddell Avenue on Monday morning, but no representative of the Orange Order was there.

Reporters and camera crews were told that various partner groups associated with what is described as the civil rights camp would be available for interview on the latest move by the Order.

Those present included political representatives of the UVF and the UDA, along with city councillors from the Ulster Unionists and the DUP. They spelt out the Order's position.

The parade on Saturday, they said, will be made up of the three local lodges in Ligoniel and the two bands that were banned by the Parades Commission from the stretch of the Crumlin Road that separates loyalist and nationalist communities.

Talks with Ardoyne residents about next year's parades would begin as soon as the lodges and bands return to Ligoniel Orange Hall after the march, they said.

"We believe the time is right to launch this initiative to resolve the present impasse and address the unique situation that the Parades Commission determination created at Woodvale," an Orange Order statement said.

"We are also conscious that the issue of parades, flags and the past are to be the subject of intensive and ongoing political discussion.

"A few moments of tolerance on a quiet Saturday morning can move the situation forward and create a positive platform, both for the 2014 parades and the Haass talks."

The Parades Commission have said they will not be making any comment about the application until their meeting ends on Tuesday afternoon.

Unionist politicians welcomed the move, but Joe Marley, from the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents' Association (CARA), said it was not the way to address the situation.

"I think it would be insane for the Parades Commission to overrule their original determination," he said.

"I actually think it would constitute irrational decision-making.

"What I would say to the Parades Commission is do not capitulate to unionist/loyalist violence, the threat of violence, intimidation and law-breaking, because that's what's occurring here on a nightly basis since the 12th of July.

"We have stated time and time again, we're up for dialogue, we're up for engagement.

"We believe that none of the issues are insurmountable and we'll go into it with a positive outlook and an open mind."

'Choreographed announcement'

Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast Gerry Kelly said there should be no preconditions to dialogue.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionJoe Marley urged the Parades Commission not to overturn its decision on the march

"If the Orange Order are now saying that they will enter into dialogue on the 2014 parading season, that would be very welcome," he said.

"However, this choreographed announcement to the media from the Belfast leadership of the Orange Order, the DUP, PUP and UUP is not aimed at resolving the difficulties that exist.

"On the contrary it is yet another attempt to undermine the Parades Commission."

Mr Kelly said direct dialogue remained the best way to reach an agreement between local residents and the Orange Order.

Unionist and loyalist politicians welcomed the Orange Order's proposal.

North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds said it had the potential "to trigger inter-community talks and to provide a positive platform for the current Haass talks process".

"It is a positive and imaginative move, designed to move things forward for the benefit of all," he said.

"The proposal takes into account the views put forward by nationalists and republicans many times concerning parades on the Crumlin Road.

"It is to be hoped therefore that this sincere and genuine initiative will be met by a demonstration of tolerance which will greatly improve inter-community relations in north Belfast."

Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson said he applauded the announcement of the "Twaddell Initiative".

"I think in light of this announcement, the sensible option is for the parade to be allowed to pass peacefully in the next week, providing up to 40 weeks for dialogue between all involved before next year's demonstration," he said.

"I think this also allows space for the Haass talks to take their course and for any recommendations that arise from these talks to be considered and taken account of."

DUP leader Peter Robinson said the proposal had the full support of the DUP.

"The onus is now upon nationalism to show leadership and to respond positively to this genuine attempt to reach accommodation," he said.

"They must face down the elements in their community who wish to drag Northern Ireland back.

"The act of sharing a main arterial route for a few minutes would boost community relations in north Belfast significantly and generate a positive atmosphere for the Haass process."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he hoped the Twaddell Initiative would be greeted in the spirit in which it was offered, and yield an appropriate and proportionate response.

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