Talks plea to curb violent parades
The Parades Commission has called for talks between the Orange Order and nationalist residents to help prevent violence on the streets of Northern Ireland this summer.
The appeal comes ahead of the first potentially troublesome march in Belfast next week and in the wake of serious rioting and road blocks by loyalist protesters opposed to restrictions on flying the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.
The Commission, which was set up in 1997 to mediate and rule on proposed controversial processions, claimed disorder was not an inevitability.
"The Parades Commission asks everyone to step up to the plate. All of us, whether resident or parader, unionist, nationalist or other, has a positive contribution to make," a statement said.
"As Northern Ireland approaches the main parading season, the opportunity remains to prove that there is no inevitability to a narrative of discord over parading. Once again there is a window of opportunity to demonstrate a more mature approach to parading and related protests."
Earlier this week the Orange Order unveiled a series of measures which it claimed could reduce sectarian tensions. Its so-called "template for parading" focused on a flashpoint at St Patrick's Church, close to Belfast city centre, where seven police officers were injured during clashes last year but did not include plans for direct dialogue with residents' groups.
"The Commission welcomes some of the language and the commitment of the Order to respectful behaviour at interfaces and places of worship such as St Patrick's. Such commitments can apply to more than just one location and, if honoured, can set the tone for change. The general values and behaviour more commonplace outside Belfast need to apply in Belfast also," the Parades Commission statement said.
Last year police were pelted by petrol bombs, bricks and bottles during disturbances which flared after a parade past a north Belfast interface. However, a contentious parade passed through the Co Antrim village of Crumlin without incident when agreement was reached between the Orange Order and locals.
The Parades Commission said grassroots talks were essential to maintaining the peace.
It said: "Local dialogue needs to happen. The Orange Order made it very clear in September 2012 that there is no blockage to local Lodges engaging with residents, an approach which delivered results only last year in Crumlin. Creating an expectation of dialogue and then failing to deliver may be an even worse scenario than refusing dialogue in the first place."