Ardoyne parade: PSNI chief says police "don’t believe there is an appetite for disorder"

Police dealing with violence in North Belfast on July 13, 2015 with a large group of riot police visible and water canon deployed
-Credit: (Image: Kevin Scott/Presseye)

A senior police commander has said he does not detect an "appetite for disorder" at a parading flashpoint in Belfast despite the breakdown of a deal between Orangemen and nationalist residents.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton was commenting after the collapse of an agreement struck in 2016 to resolve what at the time was Northern Ireland’s most volatile parading dispute, in the Woodvale/Ardoyne area of north Belfast.

Stormont’s Justice Minister Naomi Long has also called for “calm heads” as she encouraged both sides to strive to find a resolution ahead of the high point of the loyal order summer marching season.

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The flashpoint has previously witnessed serious loyalist and republican rioting when tensions linked to a contentious Orange march boiled over on the Twelfth.

A 24/7 loyalist protest camp was set up at the sectarian interface in 2013 when the Parades Commission prevented Orangemen belonging to three Orange lodges passing the nationalist Ardoyne along the Crumlin Road as they returned from traditional Twelfth commemorations. Nightly protests were held in the nearby unionist Woodvale/Twaddell area in the years after that, with a protest parade every Saturday. The policing operation at the site has cost in excess of £20 million over three years.

After protracted negotiations, an accord between the three lodges and the main nationalist residents group – the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (Cara) – was reached in 2016. It saw the Orangemen complete the outstanding leg of their 2013 parade on a morning in September 2016, after which the loyalist camp at the interface was dismantled and all associated protests ended.

From that point on, the lodges agreed not to apply for any more return parades on the Twelfth until a wider agreement on the issue was reached. In return, Cara agreed not to protest at the lodges’ already permitted outward parade on the morning of the Twelfth.

That deal has now fallen through, with Orangemen having applied to the Parades Commission for permission to parade past Ardoyne on the evening of the Twelfth. Cara has applied to stage a protest in the area at the same time. The commission will adjudicate on those applications on July 3.

Responding to the developments, Mr Singleton said: “Police are aware of heightened tensions following the breakdown in engagement between the respective parties in north Belfast, despite the heightened tensions we don’t believe there is an appetite for disorder on any side.

“We will be prepared and will work with all parties irrespective of any decision made by the Parades Commission to deliver a public safety operation.”

Ms Long was asked about the breakdown of the deal as she launched the Alliance Party’s manifesto in Belfast on Thursday.

She said a summer of heightened tensions in the area was in no-one’s interests.

“So my appeal is for calm, my appeal is for cool heads and my appeal is for long-term solutions,” Ms Long said.

“We do not want to go back to the situation where we have constant tension at interface areas and constant tension on parades.”

County Grand Master of the Orange Order in Belfast Spencer Beattie accused residents’ representatives in Ardoyne of “bad faith”.

He said the “voluntary moratorium” on a return parade on the evening of the Twelfth was introduced pending a longer-term deal to facilitate such a parade in the future.

“This cynical and malicious refusal to allow the three local Orange lodges and their Protestant neighbours the right to return home is a flagrant breach of the agreement and a blatant disregard for the most fundamental of human rights,” Mr Beattie said.

Cara expressed concern about the potential impact on community relations in the area.

“The people of the area have had peace and normality in their lives since 2016 and want that to continue into the future,” the residents’ association said in a statement.

The group said while it had applied to protest at the proposed evening parade it would not protest at the morning parades.

“Cross-community relations have been improving over the years and we very much hope that will continue,” Cara added.

Sinn Fein MLA for North Belfast Gerry Kelly said residents had “enjoyed peace and some semblance of normality in their lives” due to the 2016 agreement.

“Sinn Fein will continue to stand with residents in their opposition to this parade which contravenes the 2016 agreement, and we will be raising our serious concerns with the Parades Commission,” he said.

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