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Nationalist residents welcome ban on west Belfast parade

Orangemen pass through the gates at Workman Avenue in recent years
Connla Young

NATIONALIST residents have welcomed a decision by the Parades Commission to ban the Orange Order from marching through a west Belfast peace line gate into a nationalist area.

In a surprise ruling the commission has told the order it is not allowed to parade through the gate at Workman Avenue, which is close to the Springfield Road.

Up to 950 participants and 17 bands are expected to take part in the annual parade on Saturday.

In recent years the commission has allowed a small group of Orangemen to march through the permanently closed gate with the main body of the parade travelling via a different route to the nearby Invest NI site.

The two groups usually rejoin at the entrance of the site from where they continue their march.

In its determination the Parades Commission said it received complaints about insignia used in last year’s parade which referred to former UDA leaders John Gregg and Rab Carson who were shot dead by fellow loyalists in February 2003 as well as other dead loyalists.

“The Commission has concluded that its decision in respect of this parade must reflect poor conducts in previous years including last year, the increased perception of a paramilitary parade and its impact on victims and survivors and the failure to enter dialogue about the dispute,” the commission said.

There was serious rioting across loyalist parts of Belfast in September 2005 after the Parades Commission banned a similar parade form passing through Workman Avenue earlier in the year.

Since then limited numbers have been allowed to march through the majority nationalist district which lost several residents to loyalist murder gangs during the Troubles.

Springfield Residents’ Action Group spokesman Sean Murray welcomed the decision.

“We are happy with the determination and we have campaigned on the issues for a long time now and commend the Parades Commission for making this decision,” he said.

A delegation of residents met with the Parades Commission last week to outline their concerns.

It is understood residents have also engaged with a mediator appointed by the Parades Commission to try and resolve the issue.

Orange Order chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson called on Parades Commission chair Anne Henderson to “justify her decision”.

“I think it’s a ludicrous decision by Anne Henderson,” he said.

“It was a settled situation and still had work to be done on it but to ban the parade from going through the gates does not create the right atmosphere,” he said.

“It was a complete surprise and shock.”

The senior Orangeman said members of the unionist community feel aggrieved by the decision.

“There seems to be this attitude that if protesters get all they want then the situation is settled and it does not matter about the unionist community and how they feel,” he said.

“We see that on Donegall Street, Portadown and now on the Springfield Road and it underscores the fact that this Parades Commission has to go and for fair and equitable legislation to be introduced.”

Rev Gibson said the order wants Saturday’s parade to pass off “calmly and peacefully”.

“Things were improving,” he said.

“We were going in the right direction and this has set us back again.”

Restrictions have also been placed on a planned nationalist protest with the number of people taking part limited to 100.

A spokeswoman for the Parades Commission said “no dialogue about the parade has recently taken place”.

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