The Rev Mervyn Gibson with Orange marshalls on the Woodvale Road in Belfast on Saturday afternoon. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye
The Orange Order parade and protest in north Belfast at the weekend is part of a “long campaign” to see three Orange lodges return home past the nationalist Ardoyne shops and to achieve the disbandment of the Parades Commission, an Orange Order leader and DUP Minister have insisted.
After a contentious Orange Order parade and protest passed off peacefully in north Belfast amid heavy security on Saturday, Orange chaplain the Rev Mervyn Gibson said Orange leaders would meet soon to decide their strategy on future such protests. The DUP Minister of Social Development, Nelson McCausland, said the order and its loyalist supporters were facing into a “long campaign”.
“We will get rid of the Parades Commission but we will do it by peaceful means – by politics,” Mr Gibson said on the Woodvale Road where three Orange lodges were blocked by police from marching on past the Ardoyne shops and home to Ligoniel Orange Hall.
Mr Gibson said there “probably” would be another parade and protest on Saturday, raising the possibility of weekly Orange protests similar to the weekly parades in Drumcree, where Orangemen are barred from parading on to the nationalist Garvaghy Road.
After the major violence that erupted at the same north Belfast flashpoint on July 12th, the DUP North Belfast MLA Mr McCausland welcomed the fact that Saturday’s parade was peaceful.
“The point was made very clearly and strongly by the Orange Order that violence detracts from and distracts from the purpose of the protest. It has been a beautiful day, great crowd and very successful demonstration and it is the start of a long campaign,” he said. “The campaign needs to continue until it achieves its goal, and the goal is for the right of the Orange brethren and the band to return home up to their community.
“It’s only a couple of hundred yards of road. Are nationalism and republicanism so intolerant, are they so bigoted, that they wouldn’t allow us use a stretch of road for a very short time, and are they so closely in cahoots with the Parades Commission that the Parades Commission does their work for them?” asked Mr McCausland.
Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson said the Crumlin Road past the Ardoyne shops was an arterial route and the Ligoniel lodges should be allowed their return parade. “This is about respect, that’s what we need to get to, and if people don’t respect the Orange they need to tell us why,” he said.
In contrast to the violent march last Friday week, Saturday’s parade to the police lines was well marshalled by 70-80 Orange stewards. They handed out leaflets to Orangemen and supporters stating: “No matter what the provocation, violence is not the answer. Any violence will play into the hands of republicans.”
There was a strong force of police officers at the Woodvale Road flashpoint with more police lines nearby at Twaddell Avenue and at the Ardoyne shops. Frontline officers, however, were not in full riot gear and the water cannons were kept out of sight.
The Orangemen and more than 2,000 loyalist supporters converged at the police lines after 3pm. Many carried posters with statements such as, “Parades Commission criminalises Protestants” and “Sinn Féin wish list: No flags, no Orange marches, no Prods”.
North Belfast SDLP MLA Alban Maginness, welcoming the peaceful protest, said: “It is my hope that all sides will now be able to resume talks in order to find a lasting solution to this contentious parade.”