Northern Ireland

Call to build on NI parades progress after 'peaceful' Twelfth

Parade passes Ardoyne shops 2017 Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The annual Orange Order parade passed Ardoyne shops without incident on Wednesday

Northern Ireland should build on the progress it has made after what was hailed as the "most peaceful" Twelfth of July commemorations in years, a north Belfast priest has said.

Fr Gary Donegan was involved in talks to help resolve a long-running parade dispute in Ardoyne, north Belfast.

He said there was a "different atmosphere" in Ardoyne as marchers passed through on Wednesday morning.

However, he said it was a "small step" and there was more work to do.

Fr Donegan, who is now working in Crossgar, County Down, returned to Ardoyne on 12 July to watch as the morning parade "passed by very peacefully and quietly" on Wednesday.

He told BBC Radio Ulster that "very few" nationalist residents congregated along the route of the march this year.

"I'd say 80 people at most was the largest crowd that had actually gathered on the nationalist side - compared to previous years there were hundreds - and there was nothing to see."

'Dignity and respect'

The priest added: "Yesterday was a step - it was massive in many ways but small in other ways and we have to say 'Ok right, reflect on what actually happened - how can we actually build on this?'

"The more we inch forward to normality, and these things just pass through without reaction and pass by with dignity and respect, then the place gets a different perspective, a different name.

"Possibly then, the real issues that are there, such as unemployment, education, housing and infrastructure, could be addressed".

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The priest said there were "no heavy police lines" at this year's parade

Fr Donegan added that finding a long-term solution to contentious parades was an "ongoing process".

'Not perfect'

The Ardoyne parade dispute - which has cost an estimated £20m to police - began after a Parades Commission determination not to allow the return or evening leg of the march to pass a section of the Crumlin Road in 2013.

Loyalists staged nightly protests in the area until October last year, when the Orange Order reached an agreement with the nationalist residents' association the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (Cara).

However, another nationalist residents' group - the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (Garc) - rejected the deal and protested against the 1 October march.

Fr Donegan said that after marchers "completed" the disputed 2013 parade on 1 October 2016, a forum was set up to facilitate negotiations on future marches.

"It's not perfect by any means, because there are people who feel they are ostracised or outside of those talks," the priest added.

'Very positive'

Fr Donegan said he believed the forum would be able to build on this year's progress but it had to "increasingly bring in the wider community".

Orange Order historian Dr David Hume told BBC Radio Ulster: "It's very obvious there's been a lot of work going on behind the scenes in Ardoyne to realise what happened yesterday and it's very, very positive.

"The question is - when does the cycle of history change? It doesn't change overnight, it doesn't change dramatically, very often.

"It changes incrementally and I think we are seeing the beginnings of that now.

"Maybe communities are becoming a little more able and having the capacity to respect each other and understand each other, and give each other space."

In a statement on Wednesday, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: "We have dealt with a number of minor incidents throughout the day and have made a small number of arrests but these were very much in the margins of what has been widely described as the most peaceful Twelfth of July for some years and a model for years to come."

The officer acknowledged the "hard work of our partners and those within local communities who have contributed to making this a day people were able to enjoy".

Related Topics

More on this story