A senior Orange Order figure has warned that protests over the Ardoyne parade ban could hit the governance of Northern Ireland – and will impact even after the marching season.
Grand Secretary Drew Nelson's remarks drew criticism from Sinn Fein that the unionist parties were "dancing to the tune" of the Order.
And as tensions over the flashpoint afternoon march this Saturday grew, it was reported Prime Minister David Cameron has been in telephone contact with his Dublin counterpart Enda Kenny to discuss the situation.
Unionists are still considering the next phase of their threatened "graduated response" to the decision of the Parades Commission to ban the return parade of the Order through a contentious part of north Belfast on July 12.
Mr Nelson, however, said unionist parties and the loyal orders had realised a "knee-jerk" reaction to the Parades Commission "is not enough".
He told the annual Drumcree stand-off demonstration in Portadown yesterday: "This year's misguided decisions by the commission have brought into sharp focus their unwillingness to stand up to persistent threats of physical force protest, or indeed violence, by nationalists and republicans opposed to our parades.
"We are now in a new situation where there is a realisation throughout the loyal orders and unionist political leadership that a knee-jerk reaction over the parading season is not enough.
"I therefore expect that the unionist and loyalist family's reaction will continue well after the parading season has finished and will spread into the sphere of politics and governance."
He also reminded lodge members and their followers that Ardoyne and the Garvaghy Road in Portadown were not the only areas where the Order was being denied its "right to walk".
"We need to remind the public there are many areas across Northern Ireland where nationalist and republican intolerance is restricting our legitimate religious and cultural expression," he added.
"Not just here at Drumcree, but also in Dunloy, Rasharkin, Dungiven, Strabane and more recently, nearby in the Victoria Terrace area of Portadown.
"It is therefore abundantly clear that the nationalist and republican political leaderships merely pay lip service to the concept of shared space and a shared society. Indeed, when the loyal orders put that aspiration of shared space to the test, we are in fact demonised by nationalist and republican leaders and sent to the 'naughty corner' by the inept Parades Commission."
The ominous tone of his comments came after it emerged all district and county leaders in the Order are to meet to discuss a response to the ban on the return Ardoyne parade on July 12 – although it is not clear when the meeting will take place.
Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy yesterday said the remarks were further evidence that the Orange Order was "dictating the pace" for political unionism.
"Drew Nelson said today the reaction of unionism and loyalism to a Parades Commission ruling on the Ardoyne parade will spread into the sphere of politics and governance," the Newry and Armagh MP added.
"These remarks confirm what Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has been saying for some time now that political unionism is dancing to the tune of the Orange Order."
Meanwhile, Portadown District Master Darryl Hewitt said the time for "petty squabbles" between the unionist parties, following the recent European and local government elections, was over.
"I would call for our political leaders to put aside differences and try to achieve some form of common bond to bring the unionist people together. The unionist people are crying out for unity amongst our politicians," he said.Background
Since 1998 Orange Order members have been banned from marching along the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown after their pre-Twelfth church parade from Drumcree Church of Ireland which dates back more than 200 years. In the three years before the ban, attempts to stop the parade led to loyalist rioting and tensions right across Northern Ireland.