Northern Ireland news

No Ardoyne deal without Twaddell camp, claims senior Orangeman

Gareth McKeown

THE Assistant Grand Master of the Orange Order has claimed a three-year parade dispute in north Belfast would not have been resolved without the loyalist protest camp at Twaddell Avenue.

The occupation of Housing Executive land at the Ardoyne interface finally ended last weekend following a deal which saw the Orange Order complete a 2013 march past nearby nationalist homes.

Loyalists had held almost daily protests since the parade was banned, with the policing costs topping £20 million.

But despite the huge cost and illegal nature of the camp, Rev Mervyn Gibson said he believes the protest was a success.

“I think if you hadn't had the protest camp you wouldn't have got the agreement, because it would have been forgot about, put on the backburner, people would have promised the earth, but nothing would have been done," he said.

“It was a very good weekend not just for the Orange institution, but the community in Belfast.

“I would call it a success for justice getting up the road. I would call it a success for peaceful protest getting up the road."

Rev Mervyn Gibson claimed the resolution of a three-year parade dispute in north Belfast would not have happened without the protest camp at Twaddell Avenue. Picture by Hugh Russell

Interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme, Rev Gibson criticised the Parades Commssion for the way they handled the long-running dispute, describing it as a “safety net” for the republican community.

He said the large number of arrests and subsequent criminal records for those involved in protests was “regrettable”, but insisted the Orange Order "didn't encourage anyone to get involved in violence".

“That was never the Orange Order's intention,” he said.

The Presbyterian minister accepted, meanwhile, that “aspects” of the Orange Order were sectarian historically, but said this was within the “context of the time”.

Rev Gibson described Catholics as "Christians in error".

"I believe Roman Catholics are in need of reformation as we all are - ongoing reformation,” he said.

The senior Orangemen said he supported the removal of a controversial ban on Orange Order members entering Catholic churches, but also insisted he would not attend any service at St Anne's Anglican Cathedral involving its newly-appointed Catholic ecumenical canon Fr Edward O’Donnell.

Rev Gibson said the ban on Catholic services “harks back to a different era” and the opportunity is there for it to be changed.

"That's a rule that the order has - we are a democratic organisation, so if someone feels they want to change that rule it can be proposed, debated and voted on," he said.

The rule, which states that “You should not countenance by your presence or otherwise any act or ceremony of Popish worship”, has seen action taken in the past against unionist leaders including David Trimble and Tom Elliott for attending Catholic funerals.

In relation to his non-attendance at St Anne's Cathedral, the Belfast cleric said it was due to the fact he did not believe a Catholic priest should be appointed to a Protestant church.

Loyalists and Oranage Order members dismantle the protest camp at Twaddle Picture:Mal McCann

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