Unionists call for disputed parade probe

Published Thursday, 10 July 2014
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Unionist and loyalist leaders have called for the government to set up a commission of inquiry to review a disputed Twelfth parade in north Belfast.

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At an event hosted by the Orange Order, unionist political leaders warned that their co-operation in various levels of governance would be affected if a probe into the Orange parade was not ordered by NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

The politicians and senior Orangemen also called for the Parades Commission to be replaced.

They revealed on Thursday that demonstrations would take place in non-contentious areas on the Twelfth.

Parades on Saturday will also come to a stop for six minutes, the length of time they claim it would take for the Ligoniel lodges to complete their route.

The latest meeting comes a week after unionist politicians walked out of talks held to find a solution to contentious issues, over the watchdog's ruling on the return parade.

The parades body cited the potential for public disorder and negative impact on community relations among its reasons for preventing the evening parade proceeding along the Crumlin Road, which is adjacent to the nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood.

Major disorder broke out in the area last year following a ban on the parade - a protest camp was set up at Twaddell and regular protest marches have been ongoing since then as a response.

Reacting to this year's decision to restrict the three lodges, unionist, loyalist and Orange leaders pledged a "graduated response".

At the press conference in east Belfast, a pledge was signed to demonstrate their commitment to peaceful protest.

The combined unionist parties call upon the Secretary of State to establish a time-bound commission of inquiry with the necessary powers and resources to examine the Crumlin Road parades impasse and the wider issues it represents.

DUP leader Peter Robinson

Speaking on behalf of the coalition, DUP leader Peter Robinson said: "This is a further part of our graduated response strategy and follows on from our withdrawal from the leaders talks, ending contact with the so-called Parades Commission and the steps announced today by the Orange institution.

"In addition the parties are agreed that at every level - council, Assembly, Westminster and Europe - the denial of cultural expression resulting from republican violence and threats of violence will have consequences determining how our members at each of these levels of government will participate.

"We intend to seek an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State. The response of the Secretary of State to the positive proposal of this commission of inquiry will dictate the nature and timing of those actions."

Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson added: "The time has come for all unionists to stand up and be counted."

The Government will want to look carefully at the proposal put forward by unionist leaders this morning.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

Responding to the request, Theresa Villiers MP said: "We have always made clear our willingness to consider all practical options to resolve the situation in north Belfast.

"I welcome the efforts being made to try to find a way forward. I am happy to meet unionist leaders to discuss their proposal as soon as possible."

Reacting to the plan of action, Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly has said that "nothing should be done to help unionists undermine the Parades Commission".

The Parades Commission was set up and constituted by statute as an independent body to deal with disputed parades.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly

"Unionists are asking for a Commission of Inquiry simply because they didn't get their own way. Neither unionists or the British Secretary of State should do anything to undermine it," Mr Kelly added.

He added: "Walking out of talks with their partners in government and demanding that the British Secretary of State imposes a unionist solution can only raise tension and inflame the situation."

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has said he is concerned the unionists' plan for protest "will serve to create more uncertainty, unease and fear".

"It is also unclear where the parades will stop and the impact that this may have. This appears to be a deliberate attempt to flout the Parades Commission's determinations made on every parade," he commented.

"Likewise there is scant detail regarding the how the peaceful demonstrations will be organised or marshalled and how this will impact on the PSNI."

Mr McDonnell said a Commission of Inquiry for a stand-alone event is not a good option and would serve to undermine the Parades Commission.

What we have seen in the past, we have had high level political aspirational statements that haven’t translated at the community level and that is the challenge, that these pleas for lawful and peaceful protest actually go from the hill at Stormont right through into the communities.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton

While Alliance North Down MLA, Stephen Farry, added: "It is important that we do find a holistic solution to the issue of parades, alongside flags and how we deal with the past.

"Seeking to deal with only one parade in isolation through a Commission of Inquiry would only serve to undermine the existing mechanism while missing the opportunity to achieve a sustainable overarching solution. The place to resolve parades lies in the restoration of the all-party talks."

Reacting, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said: "I can only go on the basis of the leadership that has been shown by unionism.

"There's clearly a lack of consensus on the broad issue around parades. I wish that our political leaders across the spectrum could get that resolved.

"But, in the absence of that when there is that lack of consensus, that disharmony around the contentious issue of parades, I think it is positive that those people in public life - with civic and politics leadership responsibilities - challenge that in a way that makes sure that any activity is within the law and is peaceful and helps to build the wellbeing of society."

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) Chief Executive Glyn Roberts has appealed for the Twelfth to be peaceful and for roads not to be blocked during any demonstrations.

"The very last thing our recovering economy needs at this time is violence, rioting and disruption. July is a key trading month for retail, hospitality and of course for tourism," he said.

"Many of our members in Belfast City Centre and throughout Northern Ireland will be open and trading as normal as possible over the weekend."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
38 Comments
only saying in here wrote (132 days ago):
No Michael in Templepatrick lets have freedom instead.
Big Ian in Belfast, North Eire wrote (132 days ago):
This picture should be in Black & White.. What a bunch of hypocrites!
John in Newtownabbey wrote (132 days ago):
Is that a convicted double murderer I see on stage rubbing shoulders with former media person Mike Nesbitt? Wonder if the moderator on this site will let this comment through?
con in hellfast wrote (132 days ago):
so here is the pretty picture, our first minister and leaders of the OO shoulder to shoulder with loyalist dissidents...if SF were to share a stage with eirigi ect what would the response of the british and irish goverments (and people) be? Deafening i am sure. But now silence, appeasement in the face of terrorism and goverment in cahoots.
Stephen Williamson in Fermanagh wrote (133 days ago):
`Combined Unionist Coalition`- get over yourselves! Its about 6 minutes of a minor feeder parade that very few even cares about. The law is the law, in this case laid down by the Parades Commission, even if you don't like or agree with it. That`s what was said to the other side when the decisions went against them. So grow up,move on and stop trying to hold our country to ransom with your pathetic `graduated response` bafoonary!
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