Orange Order chiefs march to camp Twaddell in north Belfast, but keep 'graduated response' protest plans secret
The three most senior Orangemen in Northern Ireland took part in a loyalist march to express solidarity with their angry brethren in north Belfast last night – but kept details of their protest plans under wraps.
The Orange Order and unionist parties will wait until Wednesday night at the earliest to reveal full details of their joint "graduated response" to the Parades Commission determination banning Orangemen from parading past the Ardoyne shops on the Twelfth next Saturday.
An emergency meeting of the Grand Lodge of Ireland to approve the response has been scheduled for Wednesday, with the details still being thrashed out.
On Saturday, Drew Nelson, the Orange Order's grand secretary, insisted that any protests will be both peaceful and lawful. He was one of those at Twaddell Avenue last night with other senior Orangemen.
"The top table leadership of the Orange institution is here tonight to remind people throughout the province that an issue that affects our members, whether it be in Belfast or Portadown, or Dungiven, Dunloy or Rashakrin, affects us all, and that we stand together as an institution," he said.
"We will continue to stand together to assist our members in trouble to address the problems they have had."
Mr Nelson has asked for a meeting with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers before the Twelfth to address the Order's concerns over the Parades Commission and other matters.
Despite their peaceful intentions, tension continues to mount. In the past when the Orange Order has given such assurances they have not always been able to deliver on them. Last year, it called for people to congregate peacefully in Woodvale to oppose similar restrictions on the parade. As a result 5,000 Orange Order supporters congregated in the area and there were several days of rioting.
There have been attempts by the unionist parties to dampen down tension. Yesterday Mike Nesbitt, the UUP leader, condemned the burning of election posters of politicians on Eleventh night bonfires.
"I have previously called for actions to be lawful and peaceful, but it is equally important to stress that they must also be respectful," Mr Nesbitt said.
Today, UUP minister Danny Kennedy will try to raise the Parades Commission determination at a meeting of the Executive. Some details of the graduated response may be revealed at that point.
Last night Rev Brian Kennaway, a former senior Orangeman and former member of the Parades Commission, warned the Order not to let the attention it was receiving from the unionist parties go to their heads.
"This is a silly game of delay they are playing. It is all upping the ante, it is raising the tension and that is not good for unionism," he said. "Every time they engage in violence against the Crown forces it is another nail in the coffin of the Union. That is what they must avoid."
Orange and unionist sources say they are determined to avoid a repetition of last year's violence.
A source said large numbers would not be called onto the street with nothing to do, but small numbers would be used for specific time-limited events. This suggests pickets and mobile protests similar to those during the Drumcree crisis in the 1990s. Peaceful actions other than street protests are being considered, such as motions in councils and at Stormont.