DUP leader Arlene Foster says Parades Commission ruling over Whiterock parade is 'unjustified'
DUP leader Arlene Foster has issued a stinging criticism of a Parades Commission ruling to bar the annual Whiterock parade from passing through the Workman Avenue peaceline gates in west Belfast.
This Saturday will be the first time the entire parade has been stopped from passing through the gates.
In recent years a number of participants have been allowed through the gates, while the remainder of the parade took a different route through the site of the former Mackies factory.
Mrs Foster met with representatives of LOL No. 9 District Belfast - the Whiterock parade organisers - on Thursday.
Speaking afterwards, she said she is sympathetic with their concerns.
"I am of the view that the Parades Commission have been unjustified and completely misguided in not permitting some of the Orangemen from proceeding through the Workman Avenue gates," she said.
"I am particularly concerned about the justification offered by the Parades Commission to refuse access through the gates at Workman Avenue.
"In the determination the Commission claims that what they describe as recent developments in public policy as outlined in the Fresh Start Agreement mean that the gates cannot be opened without cross-community support.
"This is not the case. A further reference to a committee report from the former OFMDFM committee of the Assembly is bizarre in that committees of the Assembly do not set public policy."
The DUP leader said she intends to write to the Parades Commission over the matter.
Earlier this week a spokesperson for the Parades Commission said it has received complaints about the conduct of the parade and related protest last year.
"In reaching its decision, the Commission is mindful of the persistent breaches of determinations particularly in relation to colour parties, flags and emblems. The Commission has also received complaints about conduct of the parade and related protest last year.
"This decision reflects perceptions of paramilitary influences at the interface and is consistent with the approach by statutory agencies in relation to putting victims and survivors needs at the centre of decision making.
"The opening of permanently closed gates of the peace wall without cross community consultation is not in keeping with current policy recommendations. No dialogue about the parade has recently taken place.
"The impacts are escalating tensions at the Springfield Road interface each summer, with community life disturbed over many hours and an extremely high risk of public disorder."
She added: "the Commission continues to urge all parties to engage in dialogue about all aspects of the parade."
However despite criticising the ruling, Mrs Foster has appealed to those taking part in the parade on Saturday to respect it.
"I would appeal to all those involved on the parade on Saturday to recognise the fact that while we may not agree with the determination it is currently the Parades Commission who determine these matters until such times as the law is changed," she said.