THE Orange Order has expressed disappointment at Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness's warning that Sinn Fein may stop stewarding republican protests at loyal order parades.
In a statement, the Orange Order said that Mr McGuinness's comments were "a disappointing attack on the Protestant community".
"For years, Sinn Fein policy has been to make life as difficult as possible for parade organisers," the Order said.
"They have totally failed to understand that parading is an integral part of the Protestant culture."
Speaking to republicans at a Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown, Mr McGuinness said that it was time for the Orange Order to stop "forcing parades through Catholic areas".
"There are hundreds of Orange parades each year. Only a few cause controversy," the Mid Ulster MP said.
"It is these I want to focus on. The days of republicans stretching ourselves and our communities to maintain calm in the face of sectarian provocation cannot last forever.
"It is now time for the issue of contested parades to be dealt with once and for all. That means the Orange Order making its contribution to peace.
"It means a declaration from the Orange Order that in future they will no longer seek to force parades through Catholic areas and risk bringing violence onto our streets."
However, the Orange Order hit back saying they were "working very hard to make parades more family-friendly and welcoming, particularly to tourists, and these remarks from the Deputy First Minister are extremely unhelpful".
DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said that Mr McGuinness's comments were "yet another example of republicans shifting the responsibility for dealing with the issue of parades from themselves to the Orange Order".
He said: "Rather than attack the Loyal Orders, Sinn Fein would be better to give leadership and promote tolerance of the Protestant culture of which parading is an integral part."
Meanwhile, police have appealed for information on "a lawless element" who were "intent on destroying community life" after the Tour of the North parade in north Belfast was attacked on Friday night, leaving two parade marshals and a priest injured.
Tommy Cheevers, a spokesman for the North & West Belfast Parades and Cultural Forum, said yesterday that people were "furious" because police failed to clamp down on some 200 illegal protesters who spat in the face of Orangemen and hurled dozens of bricks and bottles, as well as snooker balls.
"We have 12 people who were injured and our workers on the ground were furious with police over the weekend," he said.
"This was a fully agreed and lawful parade and there was a counter protest notified to the Parades Commission for 40 people and nine stewards.
"But in the event there were some 250 people who turned up and threw bottles and bricks at us. One of our stewards has now been injured for the third time.
"This has certainly raised temperatures for the summer ahead."
He said that Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly should not have endorsed a protest if he knew there was a risk of it being hijacked and accused him of inflaming the situation with "irresponsible comments" earlier in the week.
But Chief Superintendent Mark Hamilton, PSNI Commander for the area, said the event passed off "without major incident".
He added: "Unfortunately a small element was intent on using young people and children to create disorder," he said. "This element was intent on destroying community life and increasing community tensions."
A police spokeswoman also said that evidence gathered on the night of the parade was being examined to identify anyone involved in criminality.
"Police reiterate their position that they want to work with all interested parties to ensure that any further parades pass off peacefully," she added.
Police appealed for information about the identity of those who "engaged in lawlessness" and who were involved in an assault on a priest, Father Donegan, and caused injury to two parade marshals.
The Press Association reported yesterday that a republican youth assaulted the priest after he tried to stop the youth stoning the Orange parade.
One man hit in the face by a snooker ball was taken to hospital.
Dissident republicans were accused by Sinn Fein of having tried to stir up trouble at the march, which has long been blighted by tension.