Orange Order leaders are to meet with nationalist residents of the Ardoyne estate in Belfast to avoid a parade ban on the Twelfth of July.
The Orangemen march by the North Belfast nationalist area returning from their annual parade. It has been a flashpoint for many years.
Northern Ireland’s Parades Commission has delayed a decision on the planned parade route until after the last-minute talks.
A report in the Belfast Telegraph confirms that the new initiative will involve representatives of the Orange Order and nationalist residents.
The Parades Commission is allowing the two groups space to see what develops before it makes a decision on the July 12th route and a return parade.
The Orange Order has confirmed to the paper that it will engage in face-to-face talks with a residents’ group ahead of the contentious feeder parade.
The report says the move comes after an appeal from Twaddell and Woodvale Residents Association to three Orange lodges to speak to the Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents Association.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson has welcomed the talks. He said: “I hail the significance of the positive engagement.”
North Belfast representatives Gerry Kelly and Alban Maginness have also welcomed the move.
One local source told the paper: “There’s lots of speculation that no return is an option, but nothing is certain. It’s out there very clearly on both sides.”
However loyalist Winston Irvine rejected any suggestion of last-minute panic or manoeuvring.
He said: “This is a genuine effort to build on back channel discussions and the successful outcome to parades in the north, west and east of the city.”
A spokesman for the Unionist PUP described the dialogue offer as ‘the crossing of a very important Rubicon’.
On the possibility of no return march, he added: “There would be a huge fear if that was to be in any way the reality ... it would be a disaster.
“Local Orange lodges stretched themselves last year by agreeing to come back early from the field.”
The Loyalists will talk with residents’ groups, CARA but another group GARC – Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective – has dismissed the initiative as ‘a cynical ploy to dictate a loyalist agenda’.
In a statement, it said: “If the loyal orders are serious about real and meaningful talks they must first speak directly to those who represent the majority of residents in the greater Ardoyne area. Otherwise, any other avenue would be a waste of time and doomed to failure.”
The paper says others are expressing concerns that the last minute nature of the talks is a bid to delay a Parades Commission ruling.
Another source said: “Irrespective of how they got to this point, it’s important.”
Asked for his view of what the Parades Commission might decide, he added: “My gut is it is veering towards some more restrictions.
“The possibility of a no return ruling is a bit of a nuclear option.”
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