[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Archbishops of Armagh and Canterbury have issued a joint statement welcoming the negotiated end of a three-year stand-off between a protestant group and Roman Catholic residents. The loyalist Protestant Orange Order is organised into local lodges; and, by tradition, they have an annual march from their lodge hall to a local church, normally in July. But these are seen as provocative by residents in the republican Catholic residential areas the marches pass through.
As part of the Northern Ireland peace processes, a Parades Commission was established to “promote greater understanding by the general public of issues concerning public processions” and to “promote and facilitate mediation as a means of resolving disputes concerning public processions.”
In July 2013 the Commission stopped the Orange Order from marching down a part of the Crumlin Road and Twaddell Avenue area of north Belfast. But undeterred, lodge members established a protest camp in the area demanding the right to march. Policing the three-year stand-off has cost in excess of £20 million GBP.
But now an agreement has been reached following mediation facilitated by the former President of the Methodist Church in Northern Ireland, the Revd Harold Good, and a Catholic community leader, Jim Roddy. The agreement envisages that the Orange Order will be able to complete their delayed 2013 march at 8.30 am on Saturday morning (1 October); and a commitment not to seek further marches down the road unless agreement was reached between the lodges and local residents. After Saturday’s parade, the protest camps would be removed.
Welcoming the agreement, the Primate of Ireland, Armagh Archbishop Richard Clarke; and the Primate of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, issued a joint statement to “express their support for this significant initiative.”
They said: “We have been aware that various people and groups have been working hard to reach an agreement which would bring to an end the parading stand-off in North Belfast, a part of the city which has borne economic hardship and carries a heavy legacy from the Troubles.
“The news of this agreement is to be warmly welcomed and we commend all who have taken risks and found a way to serve the common good in the journey towards a peaceful and reconciled future. Our prayers and continued support are with those who now carry responsibility for making it work.”
A handful of residents and small part of the Orange Order remain opposed to making any concessions to the other side; but the deal has been welcomed by the majority of community and political leaders, including the leader and deputy leader of the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive.
“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,” First Minister Arlene Foster, from the Unionist DUP group, said.
“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.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness from the republican Sinn Féin party, commended the work of Harold Good and Jim Roddy who, he said, “have worked positively and considerately with everyone in the local community to reach this agreement.”
He added: “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.”