AN AGREEMENT has been reached by Nationalist and Unionist community leaders over a contentious Orange march in Ardoyne, north Belfast, which has been a cause of protest for the past three years.
Senior churchmen, including the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Dr Richard Clarke, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, together with the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, have welcomed the move.
The annual Orange parade in the area had been prevented by the Parades Commission in 2013 from passing a shopping complex at Ardoyne, resulting in a protest camp being set up at the point on the route where the march had been curtailed.
The terms of the agreement will now allow the lodges to complete their 2013 parade, with a commitment that Orangemen will not apply for future return parades without local agreement. It will also result in the dismantling of the Twaddell Avenue protest camp.
A community forum will be
established to build better relations among all those who share the part of the Crumlin Road concerned, and the Nationalist Crumlin Ardoyne Residents’ Association (CARA) has endorsed the deal.
The deal continues to be opposed by a small group of hardline residents who object to any Orange parade going past the Ardoyne shops, and who say that they will continue to protest.
In a joint response to the news that an agreement has been reached, the two Archbishops said in a joint statement: “We have been aware that various people and groups have been working hard to reach an agreement which would bring to an end the parading stand-off in North Belfast, a part of the city which has borne economic hardship and carries a heavy legacy from the Troubles.
‘The news of this agreement is to be warmly welcomed and we commend all who have taken risks and found a way to serve the common good in the journey towards a peaceful and reconciled future. Our prayers and continued support are with those who now carry responsibility for making it work.’
Mrs Foster said: “The agreement reached between three Orange Order lodges in North Belfast and Ardoyne residents’ representatives comes about following engagement in a local dialogue process. The understanding they have reached is a welcome development, and is a significant step given this has been an initiative between the Orange and local residents. . . 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.”
The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Revd Frank Sellar, also welcomed the initiative. He said that “equal energy must be given to strengthening community relationships in the area”.
”What will now be important, as we move forward, is for equal energy and persistence to be given to strengthening community relationships across the whole community.”
The agreement comes after a public meeting at which CARA said that the deal represented the best for residents and businesses affected by the parade, the camp, and the heavy police presence in the area, “and the constant tension that comes with that”.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, welcomed the news, and said that he was hopeful it would see an end to the north-Belfast parading dispute.