Belfast Telegraph

Orange Order warns against violence

The Orange Order has warned supporters that violent protests against a controversial decision to limit one of its parades will only serve to harm its cause.

Grand Master of the main protestant loyal order Edward Stevenson called for a peaceful response to the Parades Commission ruling after he met to discuss the controversy with unionist political leaders in east Belfast.

Senior unionists are considering the next phase of a pledged "graduated response" to the decision to ban the north Belfast parade from passing the nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood on July 12 - the most significant day in the parading season.

But Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has urged the Irish and British governments not to acquiesce to unionist "threats".

Yesterday the two largest pro-Union parties - the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists - walked out of a political talks initiative at Stormont to highlight their anger and today ministers from both parties pulled out of planned cross border meetings in Dublin with counterparts in the Irish government.

The DUP and UUP have joined forces with smaller unionist and loyalist parties in the region, including two with links to paramilitary groups, to present a united front in regard to the parading dispute.

After meeting with representatives from the new unionist coalition, including DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, at the Orange Order headquarters, Mr Stevenson said: "We had a productive meeting with our Unionist political representatives, where we as an Institution offered our full support for their joint statement and unity of purpose following the Parades Commission's nonsensical decision preventing Ligoniel Orangemen from once again completing their Twelfth parade," he said.

"Grand Lodge is also mindful at this time of restrictions on other Orange parades throughout the province.

"We will continue purposeful dialogue within the Orange family and wider pro-Union community over the coming days; and will outline our response in due course.

"Although there is much anger at the latest restriction on our legitimate cultural expression and traditions; I would once again reiterate the Institution's call for any protest to be lawful and peaceful. Violence will not help our cause, and only play into the hands of our enemies."

The crisis has placed a question mark on the future viability of the power sharing administration at Stormont, with Mr Robinson having gone as far as to state that the institutions are "under threat".

In issuing its determination yesterday, the Government-appointed commission cited the potential for public disorder and negative impact on community relations among its reasons for preventing the contentious evening parade proceeding along north Belfast's Crumlin Road, which is adjacent to the Ardoyne.

While both loyalists and republicans have engaged in serious disorder linked to the parade in recent years, the DUP, UUP and other unionist and loyalist representatives insisted the commission had given in to the threat of republican violence.

In recent years when the Orange Order parade was given permission to pass the Ardoyne, republicans rioted.

When it was banned last year, loyalists rioted in the nearby unionist community in Woodvale.

Loyalists have manned a protest camp at the volatile community interface ever since, requiring a policing operation costing around £10 million.

As it did last year, the commission has given permission, with restrictions, for Orangemen to parade down the disputed section of the Crumlin Road on the morning of July 12.

It is the evening parade, when Orangemen return from traditional Twelfth commemorations elsewhere in Belfast, that has been prohibited from passing along the road.

The two biggest unionist parties have combined over the issue with the Traditional Unionist Voice party, the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG). The PUP has links to the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) while the UPRG would have a similar political advisory role in respect of the outlawed Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

The ill fated political talks at Parliament Buildings in Belfast between the five parties in the executive collapsed on only their second day.

They were established by Mr Robinson and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in an effort to break the impasse on disputes over parades, flags and the past. One of the issues being debated was a potential replacement for the controversial Parades Commission.

Unionists were clearly preparing themselves for the course of action yesterday, as the lengthy statement outlining their intentions was circulated minutes after the commission ruling was issued.

Mr Adams was critical of the unionist stance.

"The walk out by the unionist parties and their threat to pull down the political institutions is part of an escalating crisis within the political process in the north which has been going on for some time," he said.

"The pretext for yesterday's walkout, and a statement which was prepared in advance, is the Parades Commission's ruling that an Orange feeder parade be allowed to pass Ardoyne on the morning of the 12th but not in the evening.

"Sinn Fein has been actively trying to focus the Irish and British governments on problems within the process for some time."

Mr Adams also said he had warned Prime Minister David Cameron that the political process north of the border is deteriorating.

"We told him that the British and Irish governments, as co-equal guarantors of the agreement, should not acquiesce to unionist threats and must ensure continuing progress and this has to include implementing agreements already made that are the sole responsibility of the two governments," he said.

"Unionist leaders cannot divorce themselves from the likely consequences of their call for protests against the Ardoyne decision by the Parades Commission."

Earlier, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton expressed hope the issues could be resolved.

"I care deeply about what happens in Northern Ireland as does my husband," she said.

"I know there are still obstacles in the way of trying to achieve all the goals that everyone hopes for."

In an interview with RTE Radio 1, she added: "I pray that everyone keeps their eyes on the ultimate goal that people can live in peace, security and reconciliation."

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