A DELEGATION of seven DUP MLAs and councillors – including the mayors of Lisburn and Antrim – last night branded the Parades Commission a “shambles” after meeting with the body over its decision on a Twelfth demonstration at Crumlin.
The Parades Commission has ruled that the procession may walk through the village to the field but only one lodge may walk back. This will leave 3,500 brethren and bandsmen and unknown numbers of spectators unable to return to cars and buses.
The Orange Order had lodged an appeal with the Parades Commission and handed a protest letter to Secretary of State Owen Paterson following Monday’s protest of 400 people at Hillsborough Castle.
Yesterday evening a delegation of unionist MLAs and councillors from Antrim and Lisburn met the Parades Commission, but were told the decision would stand. Lagan Valley MLAs Edwin Poots, Paul Givan and Jonathan Craig, as well as South Antrim MLA Trevor Clarke, Lisburn Mayor William Leathem, Antrim Mayor Roy Thompson and Councillor Mervyn Rea all attended.
Mr Leathem claimed the body originally refused to meet him on Friday and said it was only because the delegation handed in a letter at lunchtime yesterday that they were granted a 5.15pm meeting. He claimed the Parades Commission have “dug their heels in” over the Crumlin decision and said damage would be done to relations in the area.
Mr Craig, who sits on the Policing Board, said he had concerns over policing of the event given that resources would be stretched on the Twelfth.
“The Parades Commission say this is about improving community relations, but all the feedback we have received shows this ruling is having the opposite effect,” he said.
Orange District secretary Tommy Ross has called for calm and for brethren to follow instructions. He told the News Letter last night that they were not sure logistically how the day would proceed. He said they had changed their assembly point for the march to stay away from the local Catholic church in an attempt to avoid upsetting sensitivities.
A spokesperson for the Crumlin Residents’ Association said: “The association are appealing for calm to prevail on the Twelfth of July and we ask those who are coming to our village to be respectful and mindful of the residents in the town.”
The spokesperson added that residents “are quite rightly anxious at the vast numbers of participants, bands and supporters coming to Crumlin”.
In a statement, chairman of the Parades Commission Peter Osborne said: “Where people and organisations have been unable to reach local agreement over parades the Commission has reluctantly fulfilled its legal obligation to take a decision, balancing rights and promoting sensible ways forward.”
Mr Osborne also appealed for calm across Northern Ireland ahead of the marches tomorrow. “As we approach the Twelfth of July, I hope that those involved in or affected by parades will recognise the real progress that has been made, and ensure that nothing will negatively impact upon this,” he said.
In a statement last night, a Commission spokesman said: “The Commission met with local political representatives this afternoon to listen to their views relating to the determination on the return parade through Crumlin on 12th July. The Commission welcomed the engagement and expressed a view this would have been more helpful if local political leaders had responded to the opportunity offered to them to make representations in advance of the decision being taken.” The statement added that the Commission is “always keen to listen” to representatives and has offered to further engage with councils and MLAs after the parade.