Political deal sought to end Ardoyne stand-off after low key Twelfth
THERE are hopes that a long-running parading dispute in north Belfast could be nearing resolution after most Orangemen stayed away from police lines at the end of what was the most peaceful Twelfth in over 10 years.
After a morning parade passed by the Ardoyne flashpoint on Tuesday morning with only minor verbal exchanges between nationalist protesters and loyalists, there was optimism that the evening march would also pass off without incident.
The return leg was banned from the Crumlin Road for the fourth year and police placed metal barriers across the route shortly before the first of the three affected lodges was expected to return from the field.
A deal to end the dispute collapsed last month after one of the lodges refused to agree to the terms that would have seen the return leg completed early in the morning on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.
However, while agreement could not be reached, the language used afterwards was conciliatory with political representatives saying the "heat" had been taken out of the situation.
On the return leg on Tuesday just one of lodges approached police lines and Orangeman and Ulster Political Research Group representative Gerald Solinas handed in a letter of protest to police.
The other two lodges and the Pride of Ardoyne flute band were expected to follow, but sources say they stopped at an Orange Hall on the Shankill Road after deciding to stay away.
Only a handful of supporters accompanied the lodge in contrast to the mass mobilisation of supporters of previous years.
Mr Solinas appeared unaware of the plans and spent over an hour on the phone before the lodge finally left peacefully at 8.30pm in accordance with the Parades Commission ruling.
Sources told the Irish News last night that the Twaddell protest camp, which has cost £21 million to police, has now been abandoned by senior loyalists and they believe a "political resolution" is the only way to bring a permanent end to contentious parades.
Only a handful of former flag protesters continue to man the camp, with a senior Orangeman saying it had become a "major embarrassment" to loyalism.
Senior police officer Muir Clarke was in charge of the policing operation yesterday and while hundreds of officers were on standby, in the end only a handful were needed to police what was the most low key Twelfth in many years.
Earlier in the day PSNI chief constable George Hamilton arrived at the Ardoyne interface to speak with officers on the ground.
His arrival prompted chants from Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective protesters of "You're not welcome".
Around 50 residents joined the GARC protest, and while riot police were on standby and formed a line between protesters and the parade as it passed at around 8.30am, there was only minor verbal exchanges and none of the violence associated with previous years.
GARC protesters shouted 'walk of shame' as the three Orange lodges along with 100 supporters made their way passed the interface, but the two sides were kept well apart.
Further up the Crumlin Road, members of the CARA - the group involved in recent talks to try and broker a deal - held a silent protest with a banner stating 'Resolution is possible'.
Speaking afterwards SDLP councillor Paul McCusker said: "There's an appetite for resolution and local residents want to see an end to the problem.
"I do think it's important that any talks are inclusive in order to broker a lasting deal".
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said that the heat had been removed in the build up to this year's parade.
"The Eleventh Night going into the Twelfth was one of the quietest I can remember.
"I'm glad we are where we are, I don't want to be leaving this problem to the next generation, there is a resolution to be found here with talks.
"There is a generalised view that we can crack this.
"There are those who want confrontation and that's up to them but they are in the very small minority", he said.
However, GARC spokesman Dee Fennell claimed some officers called protesters “sectarian names” and said all parades through the area should be rerouted.