Grassroots loyalists have claimed there is no appetite for violence from the Twaddell civil rights camp in north Belfast, despite a leading Orangeman warning of “civil disobedience” from protestors.
Their comments come despite comments over the weekend from senior Orangeman William Mawhinney, flanked by DUP politician Nelson McCausland, when he warned that protests in the area could result in “civil disobedience”.
Subsequently, senior DUP member Arlene Foster defended the right of people to protest but said they must be peaceful and warned everyone to remain within the law.
Mr McCausland said: “For 80 days people have protested in a way that is entirely peaceful and that’s the way it should remain.
“I commend them for the peacefulness of the protest and may that continue always in that same manner.”
Basil McCrea MLA, leader of NI21, said yesterday: “Despite six-and-a-half years of being in government, the DUP appears to be unable to jettison the politics of street protest.
“If things go wrong and turn to violence in the days ahead those that shared a platform with Mr Mawhinney must share the blame.”
West Belfast UPRG spokesman Isaac Andrews said there had been no threat of violence: “The only civil disobedience has been that bands have been playing music even though the parades commission restriction disallowed this two weeks ago.”
PUP spokesman Winston Irvine said that violence “will not be tolerated”.
Tommy Cheevers of the North and West Belfast Parades Forum said he had “no concerns at all” that there would be violence.
The Orange Order said it “remains committed to peacefully and resolutely maintaining the ongoing presence at Twaddell Avenue” until three lodges barred from completing their march on July 12 can proceed.
NI Conservatives’ co-chair Trevor Ringland said calls from a senior Belfast Orangeman to “upscale” protests in north Belfast were “irresponsible”.
“Really, at a time when traders and the law-abiding majority in Belfast are crying out for calm on the streets, this type of rhetoric is unhelpful,” said Mr Ringland.
“In fact, Mr Mawhinney is playing into the hands of republicans and Sinn Fein with his statement. I would urge the Orange Order to say something publicly to distance itself from the County Grand Secretary’s comments.”
He said it was “time for everyone who is involved to show cool heads and do everything possible to prevent further tensions”.
Loyalists associated with the Twaddell Avenue protest in north Belfast say that Sinn Fein calls for dialogue are spurious as they have been in talks for eight years together on the matter.
Isaac Andrews of the UPRG said: “We have been in dialogue here for eight years. We have given way on flags and certain bands they did not like, timing, music and have moved supporters on.”
PUP spokesman Winston Irvine said: “It suits the Sinn Fein agenda to call for dialogue and say Protestants will not talk.
“But the Parades Commission can verify talks have taken place for years.”
Tommy Cheevers of the North and West Belfast Parades Forum said: “Sinn Fein know the media are not aware of these talks so they put out statements calling for dialogue.”