Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt agree decision to ban parade should be accepted and urge any protests to be legal
Published 05/07/2014 | 02:30
Both DUP leader Peter Robinson and his UUP opposite number Mike Nesbitt have now agreed that Parades Commission determinations must be obeyed, even if as Mr Robinson put it, they seem "daft".
"We both agree that determinations should be obeyed – they have the force of law – but that does not prevent peaceful and lawful protests," Mr Nesbitt added.
After the air of crisis in the past two days both main unionist parties and the British Government are now going into overdrive to try to ensure that violence does not break out over the July 12th period.
An initial statement they issued after the recent Parades Commission determination preventing a feeder parade from passing Ardoyne shops next Saturday evening raised alarm.
Mr Robinson said later the Parades Commission ruling was "daft", but also stressed that the law should be followed.
"We're saying that no matter how daft they are, the Parades Commission have taken their decision, they have the legal authority to do it and therefore we are legally obliged to accept that and that is exactly what we are saying.
"We are saying, people do not go out onto the streets, do not cause violence in the streets tearing up your own community, attacking the police, seeing civilians injured, seeing hundreds of young loyalists ending up with prison records – that's not the way forward."
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers spent yesterday in London and her Chipping Barnett constituency, but it is understood that she had a number of conversations with Northern Ireland's political leaders in the aftermath of the Parades Commission determination.
A spokesman said: "She will continue to be in very close contact with politicians, the Chief Constable and others with an influence in the community over the coming days.
"Her clear message will be the need for all political leaders to urge calm, restraint and support for the rule of law."
Yesterday the unionist parties seemed ready to heed her calls.
Unionist sources say senior politicians, including the First Minister Mr Robinson, Tom Elliott of the UUP and Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, spent much of the day in talks with loyalists.
"They were persuading them that peaceful and lawful protest was the best way to handle this," a senior unionist sources said.
Their efforts met some initial success.
Yesterday the South Belfast UPRG, a political party linked to the paramilitary UDA, stated: "All protests and gatherings must be law-abiding and peaceful.
"The battle for our culture and our rights must not be sacrificed and derailed because of violence and lawlessness.
"We do not wish to see our young people arrested and jailed, but we do want to see them fully involved and supportive of this cause."
Despite recent speculation it is understood that the DUP and UUP will not be boycotting a meeting of the Executive next Tuesday morning.
That would have been a very serious step because it would have prevented budgetary cuts being agreed and would have put an immediate question over the power-sharing arrangement.
"There is work to be done. Both the DUP and UUP will be there," a DUP source said.
Orange sources also dismissed reports that the Order intends calling on members from all over Northern Ireland to congregate in Woodvale on July 12th in protest at the Parades Commission decision. Last year the Order made just such a call, and it resulted in days of violence in which 39 police officers were injured.
The Orange leadership believes its prospects of marching in the area will be damaged if things spin out of control this year.
"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," Edward Stevenson, the Order's grand master said.
The parties met yesterday afternoon in Orange Order headquarters but afterwards a statement from the Order gave few details beyond Mr Stevenson's call for peace and a pledge that further details would emerge.
On Thursday morning the Parades Commission prohibited three north Belfast Orange lodges from marching along the Crumlin Road past Ardoyne shops on their way back from July 12th celebrations. As soon as they heard this the DUP and UUP pulled out of talks on flags, parading and the past. They threatened a graduated response in co-operation with the Orange Order and smaller unionist parties.