Orange Order 'playing dangerous game' with parade threat
Published 23/02/2013 | 08:00
The Orange Order has been warned its threat to bypass the Parades Commission "is playing a dangerous game" and "bordering on the irresponsible".
The warning follows spokesman the Rev Mervyn Gibson's revelation last night that the Order may no longer give police notice of its parades.
The Orange Order Grand Chaplain said the plan was being considered after loyalist flag protesters marched into Belfast on several occasions recently without a Parades Commission ruling.
Marchers have highlighted and exploited a legal loophole which means the Parades Commission can't become involved if there is no notification of a parade.
Independent unionist Basil McCrea has warned the Orange Order to abandon its threat to take to the streets without permission from the marching body.
The Alliance Party has accused the Order of playing a risky game, while the SDLP has called on the Secretary of State to intervene to bolster the legal power of the Parades Commission should the Order flout the law.
Mr Gibson said the Order was considering not filling in relevant parade forms for the PSNI, which are then subject to a determination by the commission.
It is a legal requirement for the Order to do so and under legislation it must submit an 11/1 form 28 days before they plan to parade.
It is understood the commission has not ruled on the recent flag protests after seeking legal advice which found it does not have the power to do so.
Mr Gibson said: "Simply because you fill in the form, you could get charged with an offence. You don't fill in the form, you aren't committing an offence other than you broke some other law."
Mr McCrea said: "It is not only ill-advised, it's bordering on the irresponsible. It's really important that the police are not the ones to make the decision.
"It has to be done by an independent body and whether it is the Parades Commission or the Commission for Parades you need an independent body to adjudicate on these parades in contentious areas."
Alliance Justice spokesman Stewart Dickson said: "The Orange Order are playing a dangerous game if they go ahead with a suggestion that they will not notify the police of their parades."
The East Antrim MLA added: "It would be detrimental to our society if we were to have a summer of illegal marches."
The UUP's Michael Copeland accused the Parades Commission of bias. He said: "The Orange Order are law-abiding people and don't break the law lightly and while I don't condemn or condone this I can understand how they have arrived at this decision."
SDLP Justice spokesman Alban Maginness said "it bodes ill" for the marching season if the order failed to comply with the law. The North Belfast MLA added: "If the Orange Order persist in this course of action then it's incumbent on the Secretary of State to introduce legislation that will strengthen the authority of the commission."
Chief Constable Matt Baggott told the BBC that people who choose to take part in illegal actions would face the law and urged leaders to persuade people not to take part in illegal parades.
Last night a Parades Commission spokesman said: "The law is very clear. It is an offence to organise or participate in a parade that has not been notified through the appropriate form to the police.
"Where a parade is not so notified and is therefore breaking the law, it is a matter for the police to deal with under the various options open to them that could include stopping the parade or gathering evidence for potential prosecution.
"While the police and commission have been notified of around 30 flag-related parades to date, one event in east Belfast has not been notified."