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Orange Order looks to Theresa Villiers for a move on marches

By Liam Clarke

Published 27/06/2015

Rev Mervyn Gibson
Rev Mervyn Gibson

A senior Orange Order leader has predicted a peaceful marching season - but warned that the Secretary of State urgently needed to review parading legislation.

Rev Mervyn Gibson, the Order's grand chaplain, was buoyed by the Police Ombudsman's report issued yesterday. It placed the blame on nationalist residents for rioting as an Orange parade passed Short Strand in July 2013.

"This finding will have widespread repercussions. It was 2013. Our parade was coming home along the Newtownards Road with thousands of people to greet us. There was a major attack on the parade for half-an-hour with paint bombs, bottles filled with urine, bricks.

"Several people were quite badly injured; broken bones, thousands of pounds worth of damage. We made a complaint to the Police Ombudsman about the lack of policing to protect our parade, and now we have been vindicated."

He added: "This finding gives us confidence that the legal and constitutional methods can produce a fair outcome."

Turning to today's Whiterock Parade, the scene of trouble in the past, he said: "There are no problems whatsoever about it this year and there has been no real difficulty in the last few years. I hope and believe it will go off peacefully. I am predicting no trouble, absolutely not."

He added: "We are working for a peaceful marching season generally and believe we can achieve it. We have convinced people that the right way to change things is politics, but sadly the Secretary of State has given republicans a veto on progress. The most annoying thing is that the British Government is failing in their duty to enact laws that are fair to all people."

The Orange Order and the DUP are both demanding that the Government enact parading legislation at Westminster over the heads of Stormont. Theresa Villiers has said the Government won't do so unless there is agreement among local parties that this should happen. The Orange Order believes this requirement for agreement encourages nationalists and republicans to dig their heels in.

The Whiterock Parade was the scene of very serious trouble on several occasions. In 1970 a 30ft peace line was constructed along the Springfield Road in a massive military and police operation.

In 2005 the parade was widely described as potentially a "second Drumcree stand-off". In that year Whiterock Orange hall was attacked by arsonists.

The problem arises because Orangemen and their supporters from parts of the Shankill and Highfield march through security gates onto a nationalist part of Springfield Road for part of the route.

A compromise, which effectively splits the parade, has kept the peace in recent years. Rev Gibson explained "the local lodge goes through the gate and then the rest of the parade goes through the old Mackies industrial site and joins them a hundred yards up the road. There is no music until they hit the roundabout".

He believes the loyal orders were not always given credit for their efforts to reach accommodation on routes.

"We have obeyed determinations for a year-and-a-half and we have kept the protests at Twaddell every night peaceful. It doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere, I have to say that.

"We are disappointed there is no initiative from the Secretary of State. I would go so far as to say she is offering no hope for resolving the parading issue but we still want it to be peaceful." He warned "any stone thrown will undo the great work that the Order and the community have put into keeping things peaceful".

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