Belfast Telegraph

Twelfth: DUP's Dodds calls for unionist unity ahead of Northern Ireland centenary celebrations

Nigel Dodds
Nigel Dodds
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds has issued a fresh call for "unionist unity" as Northern Ireland prepares to mark its centenary in 2021.

Mr Dodds was addressing Belfast's Twelfth of July demonstration yesterday where he also accused nationalists of using Brexit "to muddy the waters" and "create a fear of a united Ireland".

Pictures from every venue - Ardoyne - Belfast - Rathfriland - Tandragee - Ballyronan - Holywood - Augher - Ahoghill and Portglenone - Lisnaskea - Pomeroy - Crossgar - Ballymena - Glenavy - Carnlough - Coleraine - Ballymoney - Donemana

His comments came as thousands of Orangemen took to the streets at parades across Northern Ireland to celebrate the main date in the loyalist parading season.

Marching bands and loyal order lodges paraded through towns and villages before congregating at fields to hear speeches and prayers delivered by senior Orangemen.

The longest parade was in Belfast, where hundreds of Orange lodge members, accompanied by about 60 bands, made their way through the city towards the demonstration field at Barnett Demesne, on the southern outskirts, where Mr Dodds addressed the crowds.

The North Belfast MP told those gathered that unionists must not be taken in by talk of a border poll and said he believed "a strong majority of people still support the Union".

He said that the centenary of Northern Ireland in two years' time will be "a significant milestone" that will provide a platform to "promote and strengthen the Union".

Mr Dodds encouraged unionists to come together and be "evangelists for the Union".

He said: "Unionist unity is vital.

"Yes, there are differences of opinion within the unionist family, but what unites us is much greater than what divides us.

"Let us stand together as our forefathers did a hundred years ago.

"And let us translate that into action by using the power of our votes.

"We have seen what can be achieved when we use the democratic process and turn out to cast our ballots."

Mr Dodds said he found it "very sad" that the "legitimate, dignified and long-standing parading tradition" had been "demonised and misrepresented by many republicans".

He added: "When I was a child, our nationalist friends and neighbours wished us well on the Twelfth, and many of them would have come out to see the parades.

"I think that many nationalist people are still the same today.

"Today there are parts of our country - main arterial routes and other shared spaces - where Orange feet are no longer allowed to walk.

"This should not be.

"Sinn Fein are quick to speak about the importance of mutual understanding and a shared future.

"Fine words, but while they talk the talk, their actions betray another mindset."

Mr Dodds added that his party members were doing all they can to get Stormont up and running again.

He also hit out at MPs for interfering in Northern Ireland by voting to introduce same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland if Stormont does not return by October 21.

Among those attending the Belfast parade was Neale Richmond, a Fine Gael politician, and Ian Marshall, a unionist member of the Irish Senate.

Elsewhere, Co Armagh once again hosted this year's biggest Twelfth gathering, with Tandragee welcoming 11 districts comprising more than 150 lodges.

Other parades were held in Lisnaskea; Pomeroy; Donemana; Augher; Coleraine; Ballyronan; Holywood; Crossgar; Rathfriland; Kilkeel; Larne; Glenavy; Carnlough; Ballymena; Ballymoney, and Ahoghill.

Meanwhile, the Independent Orange Order held its Twelfth demonstration in Portglenone, Co Antrim.

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