Residents welcome historic agreement on contentious Belfast parading dispute

Orangemen and nationalist residents who struck a breakthrough deal to resolve Northern Ireland's most volatile parading dispute have said they are committed to working in a spirit of genuine respect toward a common, peaceful and shared future.

The historic agreement on the longstanding impasse in north Belfast has been hailed by the UK and Irish governments and Stormont's political leaders.

The Twaddell/Ardoyne flashpoint has previously witnessed serious loyalist and republican rioting when tensions linked to a contentious Orange march boiled over on the main date in the loyal order parading calendar - the "Twelfth of July".

A 24/7 loyalist protest camp was set up at the sectarian interface in 2013 when the Parades Commission - a government-appointed adjudication panel for controversial marches - prevented Orangemen belonging to three Orange lodges passing the nationalist Ardoyne along the Crumlin Road as they returned from traditional "Twelfth" commemorations.

Nightly protests were held in the nearby unionist Woodvale/Twaddell area in the years since, with a protest parade every Saturday.

The policing operation at the site has cost in excess of £20m over the past three years.

After protracted negotiations, mediated by cleric Reverend Harold Good and businessman Jim Roddy, an accord between the three lodges and the main nationalist residents group - the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (Cara) - was announced on Friday night. On Saturday, further details of the deal were published.

It will see the Orangemen complete the outstanding leg of their 2013 parade next Saturday morning at 8.30am.

The Orangemen's accompanying bands will only play hymns as the parade passes the disputed stretch of the Crumlin Road while the lodges will limit the number of banners they display. In return, Cara will not apply to the Parades Commission to protest at the parade.

Once the parade is completed the loyalist camp at the interface will be dismantled and all associated protests will end.

Going forward, the lodges have agreed not to apply for any more return parades on the Twelfth until a wider agreement on the issue is reached. Cara will not protest at the lodges' already permitted outward parade on the morning of the Twelfth.

A local community forum including representatives of Cara and the loyal orders will also be convened with the aim of improving community relations in the area.

The agreement stated: "Both parties commit to implementing the complete package of measures in good faith; and in a spirit of genuine respect and co-operation commit ourselves to working towards a common, peaceful, shared future for all."

A more hard-line residents group in the Ardoyne - the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (Garc) - has made clear it will not support the settlement.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the agreement.

"The understanding they have reached is a welcome development and is a significant step given this has been an initiative between the Orange and local residents," she said.

"I said at the start of the summer that we all have a responsibility to show leadership and to continue to seek resolutions to contentious issues through discussion and to ensure any difficulties are identified and resolved peacefully.

By doing so we become stronger as a community and a country.

"I thank all those involved. We want to build a future that is respectful, inclusive and vibrant. Northern Ireland can have a very bright future built on respect and celebration of diversity."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "We must resolve disagreements regarding parades, identity, culture and tradition through dialogue so that difference is celebrated and respected.

"The next phase of our political and peace processes must be the development of a real reconciliation process.

"As leaders we will work with Executive colleagues to ensure tolerance, equality and mutual respect are key tenets of our new shared future."

Belfast Police Commander, Chief Superintendent Chris Noble, said the police operation would be scaled back.

"I and my officers look forward to stepping back from the significant policing operation that has been ongoing for some time," he said.

"We will continue to work with all communities to secure a long-term resolution of the issues surrounding parades and protests in Belfast."

When the agreement was announced on Friday, Northern Secretary James Brokenshire and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan both welcomed the development.

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