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Loyalist hopes over DUP's deal 'may see rise in parade tensions'

By Cate McCurry

There are fears that this year's marching season could see tensions rising due to the political situation, a security source has told the Belfast Telegraph.

High expectations within loyalism that the DUP's partnership with the Conservatives will lead to movement on the parades issue could lead to frustration, it was warned.

It comes after the Orange lodge at the heart of the Drumcree controversy issued a statement that indicated it wanted marches "high on the agenda for the new government".

While that has been interpreted as a bid to have Portadown LOL 1's long-standing banned parade reinstated as part of a political deal, senior Orange sources have played down the issue.

A security source told this newspaper that the lodge's weekend statement could heighten tensions around Drumcree ahead of the Twelfth parades next month.

Orangemen have been holding weekly protests after they were banned from marching along Portadown's nationalist Garvaghy Road since 1998.

The Parades Commission is expected to decide on this year's march in the next few days.

"There is concern over what the Orange Order has said as it seems they will be putting pressure on the DUP to try and resolve banned parades like Portadown," the source said.

"There are fears that the expectation is that Orangemen in Portadown will be able to return from the church.

"It's being built up to be something, and if the DUP can't deliver on their expectations it may cause issues.

"Whatever way it goes, it will affect both sides of the community because the Orange Order think they might get something out of it, whereas the residents don't want it."

It's understood the Parades Commission is to hold a meeting today to discuss the fallout from the Portadown lodge's statement.

However, Rev Mervyn Gibson, grand secretary of the Orange Order, denied it was trying to influence the DUP on parading issues in their deal with the Tories.

"We are not putting pressure on the DUP with a list of demands.

"We have asked for the parades legislation to change for the last 15 years," he said.

"Many lodges want the Parades Commission issue dealt with.

"We have issues in Northern Ireland with unionism in relation to victims, the rewriting of history and parades, and we would like to see all those issues dealt with.

"I don't think it's about what's best for us - it's what's best for the country.

"The Parades Commission needs to be transparent and ensure there is a level-playing field. We are not into horse-trading parades.

"We expect change because it's the right thing to do at the right time. We are not holding anyone to ransom.

"The DUP are well aware of what needs to be done with regards to parades and we will see what happens, but we are not saying this has to be done." Portadown district master Darryl Hewitt also called for an overhaul of the Parades Commission.

But he denied having any meetings planned with the DUP in the coming weeks.

"We all know there are issues with the Parades Commission and the legislative framework that sets it up," he added.

"Portadown has been largely forgotten about, particularly by the Parades Commission.

"We haven't spoken to the Parades Commission about Drumcree since May last year.

"The parades issue is not a devolved issue and can be sorted at Westminster."

The Parades Commission said it had "no information or evidence to indicate higher tensions this year around parading, nor, has it any information to suggest an increase in the number of parade notifications or requests to alter notices already submitted".

"The Commission is obliged to treat all evidence, both oral and written, presented to it as confidential as set out in Rule 3.3 of its statutory procedural rules.

"The divisive legacy of the Drumcree parading dispute has been well documented and is understood by all parties and by the wider community."

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