Let Orangemen have their march, says Fr Aidan Troy
The priest caught in the global spotlight over loyalist protests against Catholic children walking to the Holy Cross school in Belfast, which became such a potent symbol of naked sectarianism, has called on Catholics to allow Orangemen to march past their neighbourhood.
Fr Aidan Troy was at the centre of international media attention during the protests in 2001-2002.
Catholic children and their parents were subjected to a daily gauntlet of abusive and often violent protest. Most of the schoolgirls suffered some form of psychological trauma. Fr Troy himself was subjected to obnoxious abuse by the loyalists.
The protest ended after he gave an impassioned televised sermon in which he pointed out that the only other place in the world where little girls were denied an education was under the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Now, the Passionist priest, from Bray, Co Wicklow, has said the offer of a goodwill gesture by the Catholic community, in which he once ministered, would offer a message of peace to other communities in strife around the world.
He made his plea as he commented on the slaughter that is taking place in the Gaza conflict in the Middle East.
Now based in Paris, Fr Troy wrote in his blog on Wednesday that it was time that the Catholic community in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast should consider allowing the three small Orange lodges and two bands who had traditionally marched past the area after the Twelfth parades in Belfast to be allowed to walk their traditional route.
The march was banned last year by the Northern Ireland Parades Commission, leading to an outbreak of rioting by loyalists. The PSNI subsequently arrested and charged 760 young Protestant men for riotous and disorderly behaviour. All were caught on CCTV and almost all pleaded guilty and now have criminal records.
The march was stopped again this year, without violence, after local ex-paramilitary community leaders, along with the Orange Order, worked closely with the PSNI to prevent a recurrence of the rioting last year.
Fr Troy wrote: "Offering moral and material support is important. Gestures can be significant in calling people to the ways of peace. Would Woodvale/Ardoyne people of goodwill consider offering a powerful witness to our world at a time when in the Middle East children, women and men are being slaughtered daily? Supposing an agreement could have been reached to withdraw the objections to the return parade of July 2013 and intensify efforts being made for parading in 2015? This would speak a message that shows that long-standing divisions of neighbours are capable of improvement when people of goodwill take a risk for peace. It would also show deep care for others who are suffering and dying even as we talk and consider what to do."
Fr Troy was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Loyalist leaders in north and west Belfast have worked hard in recent years to contain anger among young people who, they say, have become "radicalised" as a result of a continuing perception that Sinn Fein and their supporters have been making significant political gains which loyalists see as undermining the "Britishness" of Northern Ireland.
The trouble began last year when Belfast City Council voted not to fly the Union flag in front of the city hall 365 days a year but follow the example of local authorities in the rest of the UK and fly it only on royal holidays. Dissident loyalists were behind much of the rioting.
A march by dissident republicans allowed past the loyalist Shankill area shortly before the Twelfth of July contributed to loyalist anger after their march was banned.