Anger over go-ahead for Belfast march

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The Independent Online
NATIONALIST RESIDENTS condemned a Parades Commission decision to allow an Apprentice Boys march to go ahead along Belfast's Lower Ormeau Road on Saturday.

The commission chairman, Alistair Graham, said it was being allowed because there had been real dialogue between the Apprentice Boys and the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC). But the community spokesman, John Gormley, said the decision was "very unjust" and residents would be demonstrating their opposition in a "determined and effective but peaceful way".

The Belfast Apprentice Boys' spokesman, Tommy Cheevers, said he was disappointed at the reaction. A peaceful protest was not necessarily a lawful one if the residents tried to block the road.

Mr Graham said: "There has been real dialogue between the Apprentice Boys and the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community which has demonstrated significant commitment to addressing each other's concerns. This was not a cosmetic exercise but a substantive, sustained and genuine engagement over a period of months. It was a detailed and quality process."

Mr Gormley said the Apprentice Boys had rejected a compromise and the commission's decision would make further dialogue between the two rival groups difficult.

"Our reaction to this parade being forced down by the Parades Commission is the same as our reaction was to parades being forced down by the RUC and anybody else. Nobody has established the legitimacy of parades on this stretch of road."

The commission ruled last night on 21 Apprentice Boys marches - marking the relief of Londonderry - on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It imposed route conditions on 12, conduct conditions on four and timing conditions on one. Four marches will be allowed to go ahead with no conditions.

A decision on the main Londonderry parade has been delayed, as the Apprentice Boys are still in proximity talks with residents in the nationalist Bogside and it is hoped a deal can be reached.

Mr Graham said it was unfortunate no agreement had been reached on the Ormeau parade, but that should not detract from the progress made between the two sides.

"We have also been impressed by the assurances we have been given by the Apprentice Boys on their commitment to abide by the law, whatever our ruling.

"We hope the representative of the LOCC will provide similar assurances and abide by them, in a clearer way than they did in our last conversations with them."

Vincent McKenna, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau spokesman, welcomed the decision to allow the march to go ahead as a recognition of the Apprentice Boys' efforts to find agreement.

He said: "Now is the time for both communities to work harder together to ensure that all of the people in Northern Ireland are able to enjoy full citizenship where both human and civil rights are respected by all."