Orange Order chief hits out at Villiers over her U-turn on parade panel
Secretary of State challenged to act fast on contentious marches
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has come under fire from Twelfth platforms with a challenge to tackle the current system for dealing with contentious parades.
Orange Order grand master Edward Stevenson said Mrs Villiers must no longer ignore the issue - more than six months after the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) said parading should be devolved to the Assembly.
And past deputy grand master the Rev Alastair Smyth argued Mrs Villiers' U-turn over setting up a panel to examine the north Belfast parades impasse had undermined trust.
The SHA - hammered out between the five main Stormont parties with the London and Dublin governments just before Christmas - made reference to the ending of the present Parades Commission, which has long been a key aim of the Orange Order.
While the deal has been stymied after Sinn Fein withdrew support for its proposals on welfare reform, effectively putting the rest of the agreement in limbo, there had been a "considerable level of agreement" between the party leaders on parading.
The initial timetable - now abandoned by the stand-off which threatens the future of the Assembly - had envisaged that First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness would bring proposals to the Executive by June.
"Powers to take responsibility for parades and related protests should, in principle, be devolved to the NI Assembly," the Stormont House Agreement said.
Legislation was to be aimed at focusing "on the rights and responsibilities of those involved in, or affected by, parades and related protests, with proper regard for fundamental rights protected by the European Court of Human Rights."
Speaking at the biggest demonstration of the day in Bessbrook, Co Armagh, Mr Stevenson said Orange leaders had continually called for the current parading legislation "to be replaced with laws and regulations which are fair and equitable to all communities" - and would go on doing so.
"Today, from this platform, I once again urge the Secretary of State to take heed of the unmistakable message emanating from the Orange fraternity and unionist community," he said.
"She can no longer ignore this smouldering issue; she must act quickly and decisively to address our legitimate concerns. There is much frustration, indeed anger, at the continuing demonisation of our Institution."
But Mr Stevenson stressed the actions of the Order and the Protestant community "must be entirely peaceful. Any form of violence only undermines, rather than strengthens, our cause".
Mr Smyth, speaking at the Co Antrim parade in Bushmills, warned of "growing intolerance strutting under the banner of equal rights".
He said: "Consider the legal action taken against businesses, like the much-publicised Ashers Bakery, or Christian owners of bed and breakfast establishments who decline to allow gay people to book rooms in their premises."
Mr Smyth said there were "some who love to trumpet the idea of a shared future but are not prepared to share a road for six minutes. This does not augur well for the future".
"Nor does the U-turn of Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State. She publicly announced the setting up of a panel to examine the history and circumstances concerning the current parades impasse in north Belfast, but then allowed Martin McGuinness the privilege of saying that this initiative was scrapped," Mr Smyth said.
"Secretary of State, if you hope to build trust among the different communities... one sure way of undermining it is by making us doubt your own trustworthiness."