Nationalist and unionist politicians have welcomed a landmark decision by the loyal orders to withdraw an application for a contentious parade past the Ardoyne shops.
Tens of thousands of Orangemen and their supporters are expected in Belfast later this month for a special march to Stormont to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant.
It had been planned that a feeder parade would pass the flashpoint Ardoyne shops, which has been the scene of violence on several occasions, but last night it emerged that the application for the parade has been withdrawn.
Nigel Dodds, the local DUP MP, said: "There can be no doubt that initiatives by both the Black and Orange Institutions have helped create a much more positive atmosphere."
Loyal order sources say it was part of a process aimed at building confidence and defusing tension in the run-up to the Covenant celebrations. The loyal orders are also "reaching out" to nationalist residents and Catholic priests, but will not talk directly to Sinn Féin for the foreseeable future. Mr Dodds added: "We in the DUP remain committed to helping those quiet conversations and, as part of this, the First Minister is meeting with the North and West Belfast Parades Forum." The parades forum is a loyalist body.
The cancelled feeder parade would have brought north Belfast lodges to the massive city centre parade planned to mark the centenary of the Ulster Covenant on Saturday, September 29. It involved the Orange Order, the Royal Black Institution and the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
"The application should never have been made," said Conor Maskey of Sinn Féin.
Nicola Mallon of the SDLP added: "The withdrawal of plans for feeder parades through Ardoyne is a very positive move which adds to the space for reflection and discussion created by the Royal Black Institution's apology to the priest and parishioners of St Patrick's two days ago."
She said it brought "the possibility to create the room needed to establish a lasting mood of respect and community confidence". Just days ago the Royal Black Institution issued an official apology for offence caused when bands played music while passing St Patrick's on Donegall Street despite a Parades Commission ruling not to. The Institution is now talking to the bands concerned. Yesterday (Friday) the Orange Order issued a conciliatory statement of its own. It said "as we move into a period involving a number of significant centenaries it is essential that we celebrate our different cultures in an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect". It is understood that the Orange Order has opened links with Fr Michael Sheehan of St Patrick's and nationalist residents of Carrick Hill. The Order said "it fully supports the sentiments expressed" in the Black Institution's apology.
Last night both Mike Nesbitt, the UUP leader, and Alban Maginness of the SDLP, urged the Orange Order to deepen contacts with nationalist residents.
Story so far: The Parades Commission placed restrictions on a Royal Black march in August following events on 12 July, when a loyalist band was filmed playing a sectarian song outside a chapel. But the band defied the commission"s determination, and other bands, which were restricted to playing a single drum beat, also breached the ruling. Trouble then flared.