Fury at Orange Order chief's call for mass parades protest
The leader of the Orange Order has been labelled irresponsible after he called for a wave of protest rallies across Northern Ireland over contentious parades.
SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said he feared there was a real risk of violence breaking out if loyalists were brought out onto the streets in large numbers, and said the rallies would put further pressure on a stretched PSNI.
Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson called for "peaceful and legal protests across Northern Ireland" on Saturday.
He was speaking to mark more than 600 days of loyalist protest in north Belfast against restrictions being placed on a parade near the nationalist Ardoyne area.
He hit out at what he called Secretary of State Theresa Villiers' "disgraceful U-turn not to proceed with a parading panel - called for by the unionist collective" and claimed it was "a sop to Sinn Fein".
The Orange Order chief also accused the Parades Commission of "pandering to the threat of republican violence".
Mr Stevenson added: "It is in this context and against such a backdrop that I would encourage Orange brethren and our supporters to demonstrate their displeasure at the current situation by holding peaceful and legal protests across Northern Ireland, at times and locations of their choosing, over the coming weeks.
"Such rallies, which will be entirely lawful, will be held in solidarity with our Orange brethren here at Ligoniel and Drumcree and will be a public show of our dissatisfaction at the ongoing and persistent demonisation of our Loyal Institution."
Mr Maginness said Mr Stevenson's remarks would not calm the situation. The North Belfast MLA said: "I would think it is irresponsible for anybody to call for demonstrations. I think the responsible thing for the Grand Master to do is to call for dialogue between the Orange Order and the local communities in the greater Ardoyne area. I would encourage him to do that."
Mr Maginness said Mr Stevenson's remarks "do nothing to contribute to calming the situation or bringing about a peaceful resolution."
He added: "I would hope any rallies would be peaceful and I assume he intends them to be peaceful but the problem is when you bring people on to the streets public disorder can take place - and given the tension around parades you will inevitably attract people out to cause disruption.
"And the PSNI are under significant pressure at the moment in terms of resources and I think it is unfortunate that the Order will contribute to those pressures."
Sinn Fein North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly added: "Bringing people on to the street to protest is not the way to find an acceptable solution to this or other contentious parades."
The north Belfast parading impasse has been ongoing since a number of Orange Order lodges were refused permission by the Parades Commission to march back along the Crumlin Road beside the nationalist Ardoyne district on July 12, 2013.
A protest camp was set up at Twaddell Avenue and regular protests have been held.