Unionists have called for a legal inquiry – first suggested by the Belfast Telegraph – into a north Belfast parading dispute.
They want the probe to examine the impasse over Orangemen's demands to complete their march along a contentious stretch of the Crumlin Road, and the wider controversy around parades.
A commission of inquiry to resolve the issue, which threatens to again overshadow tomorrow's Twelfth demonstrations, was initially proposed by this newspaper in an editorial last Friday.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the Government would consider all options to resolve the impasse. Earlier, unionist leaders had hinted their support for the political institutions could be under threat if Ms Villiers did not back the idea.
Her comments came after senior unionists and Orange Order figures outlined the first stage of their so-called "graduated response" to a ruling banning Orangemen from returning home past the Ardoyne shops tomorrow evening. This includes:
- A six-minute pause at all Twelfth demonstrations tomorrow – the length of time the Order says it would take for the return march along the contentious stretch of road in north Belfast.
- Peaceful "protest parades" to be held in non-contentious areas tomorrow evening.
- A pledge urging peaceful protests around the Twelfth.
For the second year in a row the interface at Ardoyne is set to be the key arena in the wider controversy over parades. Last year the Parades Commission banned Ligoniel lodges from completing the return route along the Crumlin Road, resulting in loyalist rioting in nearby Woodvale and sparking a year-long stand-off in the north of the city.
Yesterday, flanked by senior Orange figures and other unionist representatives, the First Minister urged the Secretary of State to establish a time-bound commission of inquiry to examine the Crumlin Road impasse.
"This is consistent with a proposal in last Friday's Belfast Telegraph editorial," Mr Robinson said.
The DUP leader said he believed the proposal was fair, adding: "The Belfast Telegraph (is) not an organ of the Press that is known to particularly speak on behalf of unionism, so I hope that that reasonable request will be accepted by the Secretary of State."
Reading from the combined unionist statement, Mr Robinson warned of consequences if Ms Villiers did not agree to the request.
"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."
Ms Villiers responded: "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."
However, SDLP MLA Alex Attwood urged the Government not to cave in to threats. "The British Government cannot concede ground on a whim – that is the danger, that they will say to political unionism: you push, we give."
At yesterday's event at Ballymacarrett Orange hall in east Belfast the political leaders and senior Orangemen signed a pledge asserting that their campaign will be peaceful. Orange Order grand master Edward Stevenson said throwing "one stone" would undermine their cause.
"If your view of protest is violence or if you seek to cause agitation within unionism, please stay away from our protests," he said.
The parades crisis has placed a question mark on the future viability of Stormont. Last week Mr Robinson went so far as to state that the institutions were "under threat" and yesterday, when asked if they were safe, he did not directly answer the question.
The graduated response:
- Each main Twelfth demonstration will stop for six minutes and a statement will be read, outlining objections to the Parades Commission.
- Tomorrow evening a number of "peaceful protest parades" will take place in non-contentious areas.
- Unionists are demanding the establishment of a commission of inquiry to examine the parades impasse.