Orange Order: We can't guarantee parade protests will be peaceful
Orange Order leaders have admitted they cannot guarantee that protests over a Twelfth parade ruling in north Belfast won't be marred by violence.
Around 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.
The meeting, involving Grand Lodge officers, County Grand Masters and District Masters from across Northern Ireland, was described as unprecedented in recent times.
However, members were keeping tight-lipped about their exact plans as they left the event at Tamnamore Orange Hall near Dungannon, Co Tyrone.
Details of the protests are expected to be revealed at a Press conference in Belfast today.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Drew Nelson, the Orange Order's Grand Secretary, urged anyone taking part in protests to remain peaceful.
However, he was unable to give assurances that the protests would not descend into violence.
"The Secretary of State can't guarantee that, the Chief Constable can't guarantee it and the Orange Institution can't guarantee it," he said.
"However, we will play our part in creating the conditions where the possibility of violence is absolutely minimised and we will do everything in our power to prevent it."
The meeting got under way shortly after 8pm, with scores of Orangemen from all six counties packing Tamnamore Hall.
Among those present was Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott, a senior member of the Orange Order in Co Fermanagh. Mr Nelson said the meeting was to "explain, discuss and agree" a course of action for the coming days and the longer term.
Asked what that course of action would involve, he replied: "We are not revealing that at this stage but it will involve protests.
"It will be legal and peaceful. No one from the community needs to have any apprehension about what's going to happen, but at the end of the day there is a point of principle at stake here.
"We believe the Parades Commission is a body which is ruling continually against the loyal orders and reacting to the threat of violence from republicanism, and we have to protest against that."
Mr Nelson declined to say if it meant drawing people on to the streets.
"Any protests that we organise will be controlled by us and we will do our best to ensure that they stay trouble-free," he added.
He urged anyone considering violence or disorder to stay away, saying it would undermine their cause.
Ahead of the meeting, senior officials from the Orange institution, Royal Black institution and Independent Orange Order met Secretary of State Theresa Villiers. Orange leaders requested a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron to outline opposition to the Parades Commission.
"We want the Prime Minister to be aware of the problem and to indicate that he has a will to try to resolve the problem, and effectively that means getting rid of the Parades Commission," added Mr Nelson.