The DUP and Sinn Fein have been accused of stoking up tensions ahead of today’s annual Twelfth Orange Order parades and risking a return to the violence and confrontation of past years.
As fears grow of potential trouble at flashpoints, including the Ardoyne parade in north Belfast, the main two Stormont parties were urged to demonstrate leadership and avoid inflammatory language.
Community Relations Council (CRC) chair Tony McCusker warned that politicians need to challenge any refusal to sort out parade disputes “if we are to avoid the mayhem which threatens to drag us back to the past”.
Parades Commission chairman Peter Osborne said political and other leaders “should be mindful of their responsibilities and the influence for good they can have within their local communities’’.
And the Alliance party accused SF and the DUP of “playing politics” with community tensions and attempting to show their respective supporters “who is boss”.
The condemnation came after DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds argued the Commission had “greatly increased the prospects of violence on the streets” with its 4pm return parade ruling on Ardoyne.
The North Belfast MP said a “disastrous and totally ill-conceived” determination by the Commission had given the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) priority over the Orange lodges.
He said he was continuing to press Secretary of State Owen Paterson to get the decision overturned.
He added: “I have reiterated that the commission is part of the problem rather than the solution to parades. We negotiated an alternative framework to handle parades and decisions such as this vindicate our determination to scrap this discredited body.”
Slamming recent Commission decisions as “bizarre”, First Minister Peter Robinson also cited Commission “diktats” on displaying the Union flag and playing of Christian hymns.
Former Sinn Fein Junior Minister Gerry Kelly said the Commission should have re-routed the afternoon return parade at Ardoyne rather than having an earlier deadline.
“What we wanted to do was take the tension out of this,” the North Belfast MLA added.
While referring to the July 12 Crumlin parade — where only the Glenavy district is permitted to make the return march — Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin said: “It is 14 years of missed opportunity to engage on a neighbour-to-neighbour basis. The Orange Order have to take responsibility for that.”
Mr McCusker said much work had been done over recent years to avoid a return to the violent confrontation and destruction “which so damaged local communities at this time of year in the past’’.
He said while the symbolic, public gestures of reconciliation of recent months were important, “what is needed now, however, is a clear commitment by our political and civic leaders to translate these gestures into practical and positive change on the ground. “The continuing absence of a meaningful good relations strategy at the heart of government makes it difficult to energise and drive forward local initiatives and to create local conditions conducive to dialogue.’’
“Those who refuse to engage constructively with others on issues of parades and flags need to be challenged by political and civic leaders if we are to avoid the mayhem which threatens to drag us back to the past.”
Mr McCusker said the violence which had left deep scars in local communities above all “undermines the economic future of people across Northern Ireland”.
“It is vitally important that we build a new culture of real tolerance and openness, in which the celebrations of some are not interpreted as the triumphalism over others and in which tolerance and generosity are the dominant themes,” he said.
Alliance Party MLA Stewart Dickson accused both the DUP and Sinn Fein of “very very sadly” playing politics with the tensions of the Twelfth.
“I very much hope we will not see any trouble on the Twelfth but respective statements from DUP and Sinn Fein over the last few days have not been helpful.
“These people are just playing to their own audiences. It is all about showing ‘we are in charge here’ and showing who is the boss,” he said.
“They call for the abolition of the Parades Commission and conveniently forget all the work that has gone on in the background to attempt to resolve issues.
“And they don’t seem to realise that if they axe the Parades Commission they have to replace it with something.”
Robin Wilson, of the campaign group Platform for Change, which led the charge against the initial Cohesion, Sharing and Integration proposals, also challenged politicians to “recognise their responsibilities to promote the interests of the whole community and uphold the rule of law in the run-up to the Twelfth.”
He said: “Elected representatives are obliged to avoid even the suggestion that impartial action by public authorities like the Parades Commission will bring violence in its wake, lest they legitimise or even condone it.”
Forum rejects ‘impossible’ Ardoyne deadline and plans to bring its challenge to the High Court
By Noel McAdam
A controversial Parades Commission decision on the contentious July 12 Ardoyne march is headed for the courts.
The North and West Belfast Parades Forum is mounting a legal challenge to the Commission ruling that lodges should make their return march tomorrow by 4pm, three hours earlier than usual.
The move towards lodging papers for a High Court judicial review came after the Commission rejected a call from the loyalist body for a re-think of its 4pm deadline. Forum spokesman Winston Irvine said: “We think they've set the Orange Order an impossible task and you can't ask people for the impossible.
“The commission have set the bar so high here and they are trying to set the Order up for failure. Under no circumstances or at any time did the forum indicate a 4pm deadline to the Commission was acceptable. We actually warned them not to do it.”
A spokesman for the Order said it was impossible for the Ardoyne lodges to take part in the main morning parade, which does not reach the ‘field’ in south Belfast until after lunchtime, and leave in time to complete their return parade for 4pm. Lodges and bands do not normally begin to leave until ‘resolutions’ are passed at the platform rally which is not due to begin at Barnett Demesne until 3pm.
The Commission is also considering a request from the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) to move its planned protest counter-parade to an earlier time tomorrow while the Twaddell Woodvale Concerned Residents have applied for permission to protest against the GARC counter-parade.
Sinn Fein had urged the Commission to re-route the afternoon Orange Order parade but also called into question GARC’s plans for a protest demonstration.
North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly admitted: “We're in a worse situation than we were last year.
“The Parades Commission couldn't really have made a worse decision. Instead of dealing with a decreasing number of parades, they're now spiralling upwards.”
Meanwhile, the DUP said a Commission determination on Crumlin would mean PSNI resources would have to be employed where only traffic patrols had been needed before.
‘It’s not men in sashes and bowlers I fear, it’s drunken hangers-on’
By Victoria O'Hara
The anxiety hangs thick in the air of Ardoyne.
And as the clock ticks down to the contentious July 12 parade, tensions are growing.
The ‘interface’ at the shopfronts has for years been a backdrop to ugly scenes of violence between loyalists, republicans and police.
Behind the normal background of people popping in for daily groceries or a newspaper, there is a palpable sense of dread that those ugly scenes will be repeated.
Nationalist residents say they are preparing to “batten down the hatches”.
Some are moving out for days. Those that are staying are moving cars and locking back gates.
Pensioners are even moving plant pots from their front gardens just in case they are used as missiles.
“I just can’t wait for it to be over,” said a woman leaving the butcher’s shop.
Another regular at the shops was 74-year-old Anne McGreevy, born and bred in Ardoyne.
The great-grandmother of one, who describes herself as a “moderate nationalist”, said people are nervous. “It is not the men walking with the bowler hat and sash causing the problems, it is the hangers-on and the drinking,’’ she said.
Artie McKeown (73) has lived in the Ardoyne area all his life.
“I saw the start of the Troubles, I know they have technically ended, but I would like to be alive to see them completely finished,’’ he said.
Asked what he thought about the current negotiation breakdown, he sighed and said: “At times I just think it will only take three minutes to walk down the road.
“I do think there are other more important things to be worried about in life — like your health and family.”
No more than a mile away in Glenbryn Parade Union flags line the streets.
Young boys are playing on top of a huge bonfire set to be lit tonight.
A few doors down a mum in her garden said: “I just want to bring my kids to see the parade without any violence — that shouldn’t happen.”
‘When everyone is gone we remain, and have to get on as a community’
By Anna Maguire
Opinion is split in Crumlin. But on the need for mediation, residents agree.
Around 5,000 Orangemen will pass through the Co Antrim village on their way to their demonstration today.
Only 500 members of Glenavy district lodge will be allowed on the return journey — following a decision by the Parades Commission.
The commission was responding to the objections of some residents, who are unhappy the order did not consult them about the parade, which is held in the village every 14 years.
Crumlin’s demography has changed in the last decade. The village is now predominantly nationalist — and some older residents blame the current impasse on their new neighbours.
“They are all strangers here now. It used to be a festival atmosphere,” Joy Gibb (79) said.
Local hairdresser Susan McDonnell agreed.
“I think there’s a lot of people who have moved in and sort of taken over.
“But I think only the local bands should be allowed (to return). That’s the way everybody feels. There are other routes the other lodges could take.”
She added: “Everyone needs to keep on talking.”
Michael (33), who has lived in the village for 10 years, objects to the scale of the parade.
“It’s not the local lodges that we object to. It’s the rest of them,” he said.
Tommy Ross, spokesman for Glenavy district Orange lodge, has said a peaceful parade through Crumlin on July 12 would do more good than harm for community relations.
But religious leaders in the village have called for caution.
James Livingstone, clerk of sessions at Crumlin Presbyterian Church, said: “One just has to look at how the community has changed,” he said.
“The order has to consider the welcome it will receive 14 years from now, if any.
“When everyone is gone we remain here and we have to get on as a community.”
Another resident added: “If there’s any trouble it will stay every year and it will become like Ardoyne. I don’t want Crumlin to be known for that.”