Belfast Telegraph

Ardoyne parade: Unionist leaders including Peter Robinson call for legal inquiry into north Belfast march dispute

Orange Order says there will also be peaceful parade demonstrations on the Twelfth

By John Mulgrew and David Young

Unionist leaders including First Minister Peter Robinson have called for a legal inquiry into ongoing parading issue in north Belfast.

The Government has now pledged to consider the demand from unionists.

Meanwhile the Orange Order has said bands across Northern Ireland will stop for several minutes in protest over the Ardoyne march decision.

The Order, alongside unionist leaders have also signed a pledge, calling for peaceful protests over the Twelfth.

The announcements were made as senior members of the Orange Order were joined by unionist leaders, including First Minister Peter Robinson and Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, during a press conference in east Belfast ahead of the Twelfth parades on Saturday.

It was to outline what had been described as a "graduated response" in regards to a Parades Commission ruling, barring bands from passing by the Ardoyne shops in north Belfast.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson, Ian McLoughlin of the UPRG and North Belfast DUP MLA Nigel Dodds were also part of Thursday's joint unionist and Orange Order delegation.

Today, unionist leaders warned that their co-operation in various levels of governance would be affected if a probe into the north Belfast parade was not ordered by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

Meanwhile, marchers at the main demonstrations across Northern Ireland will stop for six minutes in protest over the Ardoyne parade decision - marking the time it would have taken to march past the contentious flashpoint.

This morning, Peter Robinson vowed: "This is not a one day or a one week battle, this is a long campaign."

Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson said: "The time has come for all unionists to stand up and be counted."

Thursday's news conference comes after some 200 senior members of the Order gathered last night to approve plans for action over a Parades Commission determination banning them from marching past the Ardoyne shops.

Mr Robinson spoke on behalf of the coalition today.

"The combined unionist parties call upon the Secretary of State to establish a time-bound commission of inquiry with the necessary powers and resources to examine the Crumlin Road parades impasse and the wider issues it represents," he said.

He said the dispute would not go away after the Twelfth commemorations on Saturday.

At this morning's event at Ballymacarrett Orange Hall, the political leaders and senior Orangemen all signed a pledge asserting that their campaign will be lawful and peaceful.

Mr Stevenson said throwing "one stone" would undermine the Orange cause.

"If your view of protest is violence or if you seek to cause agitation within Unionism, please stay away from our protests," he said.

The Grand Master said the protest parades on the Twelfth evening would not be held in "contentious areas".

"After these parades we call on all our members and supporters to disperse peacefully and prepare to welcome further political action and support our campaign in the weeks ahead," he said.

"Leadership is being shown by Unionism standing shoulder to shoulder against intolerance.

"Let us all put our differences aside and support one another in this common cause.

"The Unionist people will be unforgiving of anyone who seeks to destroy the co-operation we display today."

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said he supported devolution but only if it was fair.

"The Ulster Unionist party believes in devolution, we believe that it is right we should have local people in charge, local people who understand local concerns, local issues and can bring forward speedy responses," he said.

"But it has to be based on principle and the principle is fairness and we are not seeing that in the issue which we are discussing today."

Both Mr Nesbitt and Mr Robinson repeatedly urged anyone participating in Saturday's event to stay within the law.

The DUP leader insisted the collective unionist and loyalist political response to the dispute had "enhanced" the chances of delivering a peaceful Twelfth.

In response to unionist calls for a inquiry into the long-running parade dispute, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the "Government will want to look carefully at the proposal put forward by unionist leaders this morning".

"We have always made clear our willingness to consider all practical options to resolve the situation in North Belfast," she said.

"I welcome the efforts being made to try to find a way forward. I am happy to meet unionist leaders to discuss their proposal as soon as possible."

Reacting today, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly insisted nothing should be done to help unionists undermine the Parades Commission.

"The Parades Commission was set up and constituted by statute as an independent body to deal with disputed parades," he said.

"Unionists are asking for a commission of inquiry simply because they didn't get their own way."

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell claimed the unionist approach to the issue would only serve to create "uncertainty, unease and fear".

"The threat that this will extend and escalate beyond the 12th will be worrying news for business and retailers and those in the tourism and hospitality sectors, as well as the general public," he said.

Full agreed statement read by First Minister Peter Robinson at press conference

"The combined unionist parties call upon the Secretary of State to establish a time-bound commission of inquiry with the necessary legal powers and resources to examine the Crumlin Road parades impasse and the wider issues it represents.

"This is consistent with a proposal in last Friday's Belfast Telegraph editorial.

"The issue of the Ligoniel parade will not go away after the Twelfth evening.

"This is a further part of our graduated response strategy, and follows on from our withdrawal from the leaders talks, ending contact with the so-called Parades Commission and the steps outlined by the Orange Institution.

"In addition, the parties are agreed that at every level - council, Assembly, Westminster and Europe - the denial of cultural expression, resulting from republican violence and threats of violence, will have a consequence determining how our members at each of these levels of government will participate.

"We intend to seek an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State - the response of the Secretary of State to the positive proposal of this commission of inquiry will dictate the nature and timing of those actions.

"We are mindful of the strong will in the community for all elements of unionism to act in a united manner and channel the rightful anger at this unjust decision.

"We reiterate our call for peaceful and lawful actions."

Further reading

Orange Order: We can't guarantee parade protests will be peaceful 

Stretched PSNI cannot sustain summer of violence, warns David Ford

Promote Twelfth more, BBC urged by Ulster Unionist

Twelfth tension: What do Orangemen think about the Ardoyne parade crisis?

Polarised views not confined to Ardoyne interface 

After hours of critical Ardoyne parade talks, just 25 words from Stormont

Orange Order: don't burn tyres on bonfires

Northern Ireland is now like a society living on a loan from Wonga 

Call for Union flag in Catholic Church grounds to come down

Ardoyne parade row: Escalation of tensions in no one's interest 

Mike Nesbitt calls for removal of election posters placed on loyalist bonfires

Orange Order chiefs march to camp Twaddell in north Belfast, but keep 'graduated response' protest plans secret

Stormont urged to discuss Ardoyne parade crisis

Irish president Michael D Higgins invited to Donegal Orange Order parade

Orange Order vow to up the ante in protest at Ardoyne ban: We'll have effect on Northern Ireland 'governance', says Grand Secretary Drew Nelson 

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