Rumblings of discontent over North Belfast parade…

It’s amazing how you manage to block out troublesome memories. The COVID lockdown has been largely consigned to the recycle bin of my mind. Likewise, many moons ago, at this time of year, the pages of Slugger would be wall to wall with posts about parades and bonfires. But in the past few years, calm has descended upon the good God-fearing people of Ulster, and the parade session has passed off largely without incident. Yes, bonfires are an environmental catastrophe as well as a major risk to residents and builders alike but when you look at where we have come from ¯_ (ツ)_/¯

So reports of the resurfacing of one of our more notorious parade flashpoints bring a weary groan. From Julian O’Neill in the BBC:

An agreement which ended violence around an Orange Order parade dispute in north Belfast has collapsed.

Talks to maintain the 2016 deal broke down last week, with a march past Ardoyne shops now being sought on the evening of 12 July.

A protest by a nationalist residents’ group is planned in response.

The Parades Commission will rule on the matter in two weeks’ time, with the police monitoring developments closely.

The Ligoniel Loyal Order has applied for a march involving one band and about 100 participants, scheduled to leave Belfast city centre at 1830 BST and conclude by 2100.

The route would involve Crumlin Road, passing Ardoyne.

Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (Cara) has applied for a protest involving 100 people at the same time.

The Order claimed the Cara had “weaponised” engagement and accused them of “bad-faith dialogue.”

Earlier, Sinn Fein north Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said it was “deeply concerning” that a parade has been applied for.

“Sinn Féin will continue to stand with residents in their opposition to this parade which contravenes the 2016 agreement,” he added.

The 2016 deal was struck between a number of Orange lodges and Cara, and defused what had become one of Northern Ireland’s most contentious parading situations.

Cara undertook not to object to any existing morning parades, which usually take place about 08:30.

In return, the lodges agreed to a “voluntary moratorium” on applying for evening return parades.

The agreement stated: “This moratorium would allow for a process between the lodges and Cara to seek agreement on future return parades and if agreement is achieved, the moratorium would be lifted.”

The agreement almost faltered last year, when there were applications to parade past Ardoyne shops in the evening.

However, the situation was defused and none took place.

‘Bad faith dialogue’
Now the Orange Order has said the 2016 deal has broken down.

In a statement, Spencer Beattie, Belfast County Grand Master, said: “Hundreds of hours of work and dozens of face-to-face discussions have been undermined by Cara, who have weaponised the dialogue process.

“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.

“Regrettably, this bad faith dialogue on the part of Cara has meant a collapse of the 2016 parading agreement.”

He added the Order is “resolute” on a “right” to a return march, “no matter the opposition or threat of violence.”

The Parades Commission will now take soundings before making a decision, which is currently due on 3 July.

Last year it said applications for an evening parade showed a “wanton disregard” for the agreement which had secured years of peace.

Some commentators disagree with the BBC’s negative assessment:

The saner among us might wonder where either side gets the energy for this stuff, don’t they know there is a new Star Wars series on Disney+ and Season 2 of House of Dragons on NowTV?

But there will be no shortage of extremists on either side looking to stir up tensions. We pray wiser, calmer heads prevail.

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