Presbyterian moderator urges Orange Order to call off its protest
One of Northern Ireland's most senior clergymen has called on the Orange Order to step back from its parades protest in north Belfast.
Dr Rob Craig, moderator of the Presbyterian Church, said he believed the organisation had made its point with Saturday's protest over a Parades Commission ruling and should "stand back now".
However, according to the Parades Commission website, further applications have been made for more marches in August – including the contentious route at Ardoyne.
Dr Craig was speaking after a protest parade at the north Belfast flashpoint – which was hit by five nights of rioting – passed off without incident on Saturday.
Thousands of Orange Order members, bandsmen and supporters were blocked from marching on a contested stretch of road past the Ardoyne shopfronts but there was no repeat of the violence that erupted after the annual Twelfth of July commemorations.
Hundreds of riot squad officers and scores of police Land Rovers were deployed to the area, but community beat officers were put at the front of police lines on Woodvale Road in a bid to ease tensions. The Orange Order also had about 30 marshals on site who distributed leaflets warning troublemakers to stay away.
Speaking on Radio Ulster yesterday, Dr Craig said he believed the Orange Order had made its point on Saturday and should draw a line there.
He said he hoped the Order would engage with Dr Richard Haass, the former US envoy who will be chairing all-party talks to deal with some of the most divisive issues in Northern Ireland, including parading and flags.
"I would hope that will be one way in which we will find a solution to this," he said.
When asked if he thought the Order should back off from protests over the blocked parade, Dr Craig said: "I think that would be a step in the right direction. They've made their point, they didn't get up the road. To keep making the point is to overstate it."
Addressing the Orange Order directly, the clergyman added: "Stand back now. Let's cool down. If you'll listen to me, take time to reflect and see we will resolve this."
Saturday's protest was attended by thousands and heard calls for the Parades Commission to abolished.
Addressing the crowd from the top of a van, Michael Crosby (below), from Pride of Ardoyne Flute Band, called for loyalists across Northern Ireland to show their support.
He said: "This is only the start of it. It will continue. We want to fill this place with thousands of people, and as for our unionist politicians – our aim is to get the Parades Commission gone."
The protest ended after about half-an-hour with a rendition of the national anthem.
Afterwards, Orange Order chaplain Mervyn Gibson praised the police operation. "The police response was excellent," he said. "We had sensible policing – sadly we don't always see that."
Mr Gibson added: "I think it was a good day for peaceful protest. This crisis has been brought upon us by the Parades Commission, one peaceful protest is not going to solve it."
The protest was organised after the Parades Commission banned Orangemen from marching on a disputed section of Crumlin Road during Twelfth celebrations.
More than 70 front line police officers have been injured during violent clashes and around 75 people – aged between 12 and 52 – have been arrested.
Meanwhile, loyalist leader Billy Hutchinson has said the future of marching should not be discussed in terms of winners and losers, but on the issue of respect.
"The Orange worked hard with all the partners all week to ensure there was no violence," PUP leader Hutchinson told the Belfast Telegraph.
"That was important and that has set the scene ... that crowd that turned up, the way it behaved and the way it dispersed.
"It gave the community a good boost.
"People need to understand the Crumlin Road is a completely different issue than other areas.
"It's an arterial route. If we can't share it, if the Orange can't use that part of the road, it doesn't augur well for a shared future.
"The question has to be asked, who is the most sectarian, the people who parade or the people who oppose it?"
"Stand back now. Let's cool down. If you'll listen to me, take time to reflect and see we will resolve this."
Presbyterian moderator Dr Rob Craig to the Orange Order