Garc residents' protest march and rally in Ardoyne passes off peacefully
A NATIONALIST residents' protest march and rally close to the Twaddell flashpoint in north Belfast passed off peacefully last night.
Several hundred people took part in the march organised by Greater Ardoyne Residents' Collective (Garc), held in protest at an Orange Order parade due to march past nationalist homes in the area this morning as part of a deal to end the long-running Ardoyne parade dispute.
Parade organisers had faced calls from senior church leaders, politicians and community groups to call off the march.
Hundreds of PSNI officers were at the scene and a police helicopter hovered overhead last night as a massive security operation swung into place.
Around the same time, several hundred loyalists gathered close to a protest camp at Twaddell Avenue to mark the last night of a three-year long protest.
Last night's Garc parade was organised after Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents' Association (Cara) struck a deal with the Orange Order last week in a bid to end the parading impasse.
Tensions in the area have been high since the Parades Commission banned Orangemen from holding a return march past nationalist homes on July 12 2013.
Garc was not involved in the negotiations that led to the deal, which includes the removal of the protest camp at Twaddell Avenue and a "moratorium" placed on future return Twelfth parades in the area.
Garc has been given permission to hold a separate protest on the Crumlin Road, involving up to 60 people, during this morning's Orange Order parade.
Protesters had wanted to walk from Estoril Park to the Ardoyne Library on the Crumlin Road.
However, they were banned from going on to the Crumlin Road after the Parades Commission ruled that those taking part should not pass the junction of Estoril Park and Balholm Drive.
Protesters marched through Ardoyne last night before finally reaching PSNI lines at the Estoril Park and Balholm Drive where a short rally was held.
Those who spoke included local resident Fidel Ewing and Garc spokesman Dee Fennell.
After the parade Mr Fennell said: "Hundreds of residents turning out here tonight to reject that deal to protest against the continuation of ongoing parades dispels the myth put forward by Sinn Féin, the clergy and their friends within the state establishment that Garc has no support in this area".
"Garc came out tonight peacefully and radically to display the opposition that exists to sectarian parades and this deal," he said.
He said he believes there will be applications by the Orange Order for evening parades through the area in future.
He also claimed that Garc asked those who helped broker the deal if they could take part in the “process” but that they were not invited to participate.
Meanwhile, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said the PSNI welcomed the Cara-Orange Order agreement and said an “appropriate and proportionate policing operation” will be put in place during this morning’s parade and protest.