Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Parade route decision 'must be respected' says Villiers

Northern Ireland Secretary was speaking in the Commons today

Controversy: Ardoyne last year
Controversy: Ardoyne last year

A decision to ban a return parade by the Orange Order must be respected, Theresa Villiers has told the Commons.

The Parades Commission has ruled that the return leg of a feeder parade cannot march on a stretch of road in Ardoyne which has been the scene of serious rioting in previous years.

The announcement, which angered loyalists but was welcomed by nationalists, came just hours after Northern Ireland's police chief Matt Baggott revealed he was drafting in 630 additional officers to help keep the peace on the streets during the annual Twelfth of July demonstrations on Friday.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villier's comments came after Nigel Dodds called for the commission to be scrapped.

Speaking during Northern Ireland Questions, the deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party described the ruling as "perverse".

Turning to Ms Villiers, Mr Dodds said: "You will be aware of the perverse decision that was made last night by the Parades Commission, which rewarded bad behaviour and has punished good behaviour in relation to parading. What are you going to do about it?"

Ms Villiers said she was working closely with all parties concerned to ensure a "peaceful 12th of July". She added: "I believe that it is important for all of us, both in this House and the Northern Ireland political parties, to call on all concerned to work towards a peaceful 12th of July. It would be hugely damaging to Northern Ireland if the good news of the G8 were blighted by scenes of rioting on the streets of north Belfast."

Mr Dodds replied: "We want to see that peaceful situation continue, we don't want to see any rioting on our streets. Do you accept that the Parades Commission has made the situation immensely worse, has created severe tensions because the republicans who brought machine guns out and attacked the police last year and shot at them, whilst loyalist and unionists behaved impeccably, republicans have been rewarded throughout, unionists have been punished? How on earth do you expect people to react in that situation?"

He added: "Isn't it time for that Parades Commission to go and to be replaced by something more sensible?"

Ms Villiers, however, insisted their decision was final. She said: "Well, I know that the member for North Belfast has strong views on these matters and the fact that these events relate directly to his constituency give him an important say on this. I recognise the anger in parts of the loyalist community in this decision, but it is vital that people recognise the Parades Commission is a lawfully constituted authority; respect for the rule of law is crucial."

She added: "It would be immensely damaging to Northern Ireland if we had a violent 12th of July. So whatever people think of the Parades Commission determination, I hope they will listen to the statement made by all five party leaders yesterday on the importance of the rule of law, and a peaceful 12th of July and complying with the Parade Commission's determination."

The commission has ruled that Orangemen can walk on the stretch of the Crumlin Road - in the nationalist Ardoyne area - in the morning, but not in the evening.

Parades Commission chairman Peter Osborne had said he hoped the restrictions would be respected.

"We believe these determinations are fair and balanced. People want a peaceful parading season. There have been many welcome words about moderating language, upholding the law and showing mutual respect.

"There is no inevitability that this will be a troubled parading season if those involved choose to behave responsibly and demonstrate mutual respect and act within the law."

It is the first time the feeder parade past Ardoyne shops has been blocked. Last year Orangemen were ordered to return from the main demonstration early.

A total of 550 parades are due to take place throughout Northern Ireland on Friday.

Around 30 units of specially trained public order officers will be deployed from forces across England, Scotland and Wales to help bolster the PSNI numbers in the event of disorder.

The Chief Constable said the additional officers, trained in the run-up to last month's G8 summit, would help to police the 43 marches deemed to be contentious. But they will not be posted to potential flashpoints such as Ardoyne where the threat of serious disorder is high.

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