Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

A day of drama, a growing sense of dread, a party in turmoil

DUP forces Assembly recall

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and leader Peter Robinson
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and leader Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson has forced a recall of the Assembly amidst mounting tension and turmoil within his party over parading.

Last night a senior Orange Order figure predicted chaos on the scale of last winter's flag protests as loyalist anger continues to grow in north Belfast.

Turmoil has reigned within the DUP and loyalism generally since Tuesday when the Parades Commission ruled that the Orange Order could not hold a return parade past the Ardoyne shops on July 12.

During another day of drama yesterday DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds was suspended from the Commons chamber after accusing Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers of "deliberate deception".

And the First Minister issued a statement strongly criticising the decision of the Parades Commission, just hours after he had made an appeal stating that the commission was the "lawful authority dealing with these matters and its decisions must be observed".

Last night Mr Robinson, the DUP leader, revealed that his party had lodged a request with Willie Hay, the Speaker, for the recall of the Assembly, at the earliest opportunity. He said the purpose was "to discuss and debate the situation surrounding parades and related protests".

The First Minister added: "In light of the determination issued by the Parades Commission last evening it is right and proper that these issues should be debated at an appropriate time next week in the Assembly to allow for the expression of opposition to a decision which many see as rewarding riotous behaviour by dissident republicans last July."

This was a reference to violence which erupted after a counter demonstration by Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective which ended in gunfire.

The Assembly must be recalled at the request of any 30 Members.

Since the DUP motion was accompanied by 37 signatures Mr Hay had to act on it.

The motion followed a day of discussion in the DUP, and the drafters clearly chose their words with a view to keeping different factions on board.

It condemned the Parades Commission, which the party has always wanted to replace, but avoided breaking ministerial or MLA codes by condoning illegality or violence.

It described the Parades Commission determination as "lawful but illogical".

It stated that "attempts to build a shared future have been harmed by the actions of those who oppose the concept of sharing space and respecting cultural identity".

It then called "not only for respect for the rule of law to be upheld but also for respect and tolerance to be shown for everyone's cultural identity".

Behind the scenes the party clearly feels that the situation could spiral out of control and there were differences in emphasis between leading figures.

Sammy Wilson, the Finance Minister, called for no return to the mass disruption experienced in the flag protests last December and in January.

He condemned the Parades Commission decision, but added: "I just hope that the consequence of that will not be that the Orange Order will make decisions that put us back to where we were six months ago. We cannot afford it, honestly."

Asked if such disorder was likely, Rev Mervyn Gibson, the Orange Order's Belfast county grand chaplain, said: "I believe there will be consequences but it is my prayer that they will be peaceful consequences. Anyone can see that there is deep anger across Northern Ireland."

Some of that anger was expressed by Mr Dodds, the DUP deputy leader, who was escorted out of the Westminster for accusing the Secretary of State of a "deliberate deception" of Parliament.

Mr Dodds, who is MP for North Belfast, where the Ardoyne parade takes place, refused to withdraw the comments which were made during Northern Ireland questions.

Earlier Mr Dodds had asked Ms Villiers to "accept that the Parades Commission has made the situation immensely worse, has created severe tensions because the republicans who brought machine-guns out and attacked the police last year and shot at them, whilst loyalist and unionists behaved impeccably, republicans have been rewarded throughout, unionists have been punished?"

"How on Earth do you expect people to react in that situation?" he continued, adding that rioting was to be avoided.

Mr Dodds told the Belfast Telegraph he had wanted Ms Villiers to use her powers to overturn or vary a decision by the Parades Commission.

However, he said this could only be done on foot of a representation from Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable.

He has now scheduled a meeting with senior police officers to ask "that the Chief Constable shows his hand" by approaching her to overturn the decision.

Asked whether the Parades Commission decision should be obeyed if it was not set aside, Mr Dodds, an Orangmen, said there would be no option.

"Presumably the police will not allow it to get past a certain point and that is the end of it, the police will enforce it," he said.

He added: "The whole basis is misguided and perverse but I do not encourage anybody to break the law or to get involved in violence.

"I appeal for calm, but I know that the anger is not confined to north Belfast."

Turning to Ms Villiers, he said: "I think she and the NIO don't want to be dragged into any of this.

"She gave very bland answers which didn't recognise the seriousness of the situation."

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