Throughout May and June, the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) held a number of positive meetings to furnish other Community Leaders and Elected Representatives with our analysis of unwelcome Loyal Order parades through our area. The discussions included Fr. Gary Donegan, (Parish Priest), Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA), Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) and senior Youth Leaders from Ardoyne Youth Providers Forum, Ardoyne Youth Club, Ardoyne & Marrowbone Youth Forum and Club Oige
We wrote to Sinn Fein the same day as the SDLP by email, however they didn’t respond until late on Thursday 7th July. We wrote back acknowledging his email and that we would be more than willing to meet with him. We also requested that any meeting, take place in a public building ie: Ardoyne Community Centre with independant Community Representatives. So that any matters arising, could be clarified as a true and accurate account of proceedings and asking Mr. Kelly was he willing to withdraw negative and untrue comments he made to the Media about our Collective the year before? To date, he still hasn’t responded but informed the North Belfast News (14/7/11) that he would not retract his misleading statements about GARC.
GARC also held a lengthy meeting with the Parades Commission in Holy Cross Monastery on June 9. We invited the above Youth Leaders to give the Commission their opinion on how sectarian parades negatively affect the youth of Ardoyne and the Oldpark areas obviously to no avail.
Future talks between GARC and CARA were scuppered due to a misleading media report and it is a matter of regret that we were not able to formulate a unified plan to oppose unwelcome parades. We reiterate that no one resident’s group has a monopoly on the parades issue in our community. Therefore, GARC nor CARA can propose, negotiate or compromise with the North & West Belfast Parades Forum without FIRST conducting extensive consultation and approval from the Greater Ardoyne community. Unfortunately, this has not been done to date!
On July 8, GARC held another important meeting in Ardoyne Community Centre with a number of Political Parties and Groups that included, Belfast representatives of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), Eirigi, Republican Network for Unity (RNU), 32 County Sovereignty Movement and the James Connolly Republican Society. The objective of this meeting, as with the others was to ask the above organisations to take our lead during the protest and use their influence with their respective memberships in preventing any potential situation in our area on the Twelfth.
After the Parades Commission wrongly ruled in favour of not ONE but TWO Orange Order parades to take place through Ardoyne. GARC decided to apply for a residents march. We did so, as is our right to express our community’s right to ‘live free from fear and sectarian harassment’. On July 8, we were informed by the Commission that our march would NOT BE permitted on the Crumlin Road on July 12, 2011. We also delivered over 6,000 leaflets throughout Greater Ardoyne under the watchful eye of the partial PSNI on foot patrol, jeeps and unmarked cars for two hours. Isn't it a pity they don't pay the same attention to the well-known criminals who freely roam Ardoyne daily. The leaflet informed residents about the rationale behind our right to march and asked everyone especially the young to refrain from violent actions. We also invited everyone to participate in the march.
Much has been written about the rioting. However, what has been missing has been who actually created the riots in the first place especially in S/F's nonsensical leaflet of lies being distributed. Early on the Twelfth afternoon, GARC met with local Youth Workers and we gave them details of our march and asked for their help in removing potential trouble makers. According to many local residents who were waiting at the top of Estorial Pk for the march. Fr. Gary Donegan and Alban McGuinness MLA, made Media quotes that dozens of riot-clad PSNI members moved into Estorial much too early. They were immediately accompanined by a number of Land Rovers and Water Cannon were deployed. These actions only inflamed youths, some of who are known criminal elements and frightened residents. In response, a couple of youths threw stones at PSNI lines and were immediately beaten back by Plastic Bullets and water cannon.
Within moments, GARC march organisers were notified that a situation was unfolding in Estorial. We were forced to change direction of our march away from the planned route instead, we opted to travel down Strathroy Pk along Etna Drive and up Brompton Pk to it's junction with Balhom Dr. FACT.
At the top of Brompton, the march was met by another huge line of a well-armed and prepared riot squad, Land Rovers and another Water Cannon. It was then the GARC Spokesperson, Dee Fennell addressed marchers, thanking them for showing their continued support and deploring the Parades Commission for again permitting an unnecessary and most certainly unwelcome Orange march. At one point, Dee demanded a couple of stone-throwers STOP. They were quickly moved on by GARC Marshals and no other incidents occurred whilst the rally continued. After the speech, the vast majority of marchers dispersed peacefully. FACT. GARC came and did what they said what they would do, nothing more - nothing less!
The day before, Sinn Fein members visited residents in Estorial Pk and Balhom Dr and maliciously informed them that GARC's march would cause a riot and they should remove all their garden ornaments and patio furniture etc. They were also told that S/F would be present in numbers to prevent trouble makers. This begs the question WHY were S/F cowering in the Chapel grounds within the sterile area clearly agreed between them and the PSNI. In order for them to hold their facilitation protest under the guise of CARA.
According to some Politicians who have attempted to misrepresent GARC’s integrity by erroneously linking us to ‘dissident’ Republican groups. We state categorically, that we are a single-issue resident’s Collective. We share a strong common goal to end unwelcome Loyal Order parades which ends every year in havoc and trouble. GARC advocate an viable alternative route for these marches, where they are indeed welcomed. Regardless of smears and untruths, we will continue to represent those residents from the greater Ardoyne area who have been repeatedly denied the right to live in peace, free from fear and sectarian harassment!
Martin Óg MeehanGARC