Belfast Telegraph

Orange Order plans to picket Stormont as MLAs gather

BY ANNA MAGUIRE

The Orange Order will take part in a protest at Stormont this afternoon while inside Parliament Buildings MLAs debate the sustained rioting in Belfast.

Yesterday, senior Orange and loyalist leaders attended a meeting in east Belfast with unionist politicians also present. It is understood the discussion covered Friday's Twelfth parade in the north of the city and events since.

It is understood the UVF leader John Graham and other loyalists, including PUP spokesman Winston Irvine, were present.

The meeting was, according to a source, a chance to assess developments since last Friday and to discuss a way forward.

Orange Order grand chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson said he expected members to be at the PUP-organised protest.

The party issued a statement yesterday calling on all "like minded groups and individuals" to join the rally, which will see organisers hand over a letter outlining a series of concerns, including over march decisions, to the Assembly.

"There's nothing been organised as such. But I'm sure members of the institution will be present," Mr Gibson said.

He laid the blame for the crisis in north Belfast's Woodvale Road area at the door of the Parades Commission.

"The crisis was brought by the Parades Commission. I think the police have been over-zealous in trying to apportion the blame at the Orange Order's door," he said.

The Orange Order has insisted it will "not be scapegoated" following the violence.

Yesterday, Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr warned that the force will take advice from the Public Prosecution Service when asked if repeatedly encouraging people to ignore a Parades Commission decision amounted to inflammatory language.

On Friday morning Mr Gibson told the BBC's Nolan Show that he had no difficulty saying people "in all conscience" could break a Parades Commission decision after its ruling on Friday's parade through north Belfast.

"Police will do what they have to do," Mr Gibson said last night in response to Mr Kerr's statement.

"We never encouraged people to protest. We said we, as an institution, were going to protest. And if people were coming along, to protest peacefully."

He warned that members of the Order convicted of attacking police lines on the Twelfth will face internal disciplinary procedures. Footage shows some people wearing Orange sashes and regalia hurling insults and attacking police lines with sticks and missiles on Friday night.

The Order called for all protests to be suspended in the Woodvale Road area following three nights of sustained rioting.

But after a 90-minute meeting with police yesterday, DUP minister Nelson McCausland refused to call for a halt to all protests – instead pointing to the police's use of plastic bullets and water cannon during weekend violence.

Both the DUP and Orange Order claimed police failed to protect marchers along the Newtownards Road from what they said was a sustained and unprovoked attack from the Short Strand.

"The right of protest, peaceful protest, the type the Orange Order has advocated and had called for, is fundamental in any democratic society," Mr McCausland said.

He claimed the Parades Commission's decision to block part of Friday's north Belfast parade rewarded past republican violence.

The Parades Commission insisted yesterday that there was "no inevitability to violence after any determination" and warned civic leaders against using inflammatory language.

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