Senior Orange Order members last night attended the protest camp at Twaddell Avenue in north Belfast to show their support for protestors who have been hoping to complete the return leg of their July 12 parade since last year.
Grand Master Edward Stevenson, Deputy Grand Master Rev Alistair Smyth and Grand Secretary Drew Nelson were all present to show solidarity with the Ligoniel Orangemen, who found the return leg of their walk past the nationalist Ardoyne estate last year was forbidden by the Parades Commission.
Speaking at the camp last night, Mr Nelson said the Order would be holding protests “but they will be peaceful”.
He added: “People need have no apprehension about what will happen, but at the end of the day democracy has been tarnished here and people have a right to protest against that.”
Mr Nelson said the mood last night at Twaddell was “quietly determined”.
He said the Order is planning protests in response to at least two “very disgraceful” decisions by the Parades Commission – at Ardoyne and on the edge of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, where Orangemen were recently forbidden from parading to their own arch.
The Parades Commission, he said, was borne out of concessions during republican ceasefires in 1998 but the culture has persisted so that “the threat of dissident violence or terrorism is always in the background of the smooth functioning of politics”.
He added that the “general feeling in the unionist family is that a stand has to be taken against the continual threat of violence”.
An unprecedented meeting of Orange leaders from county and district levels is taking place tomorrow night, he said.
“What we are trying to do is offer people the chance to engage in legal, peaceful protests and to remove any temptation for any illegal or violent protest,” he added.
UUP Chief Whip Robin Swann MLA asked people to remain calm during the coming days and to ensure that everyone at all times acts in “a lawful, peaceful and respectful manner”.
He added: “The unionist parties withdrew from the talks process last week because of a refusal by other parties in those talks to discuss upcoming contentious parades and protests, including the Ardoyne Twelfth parade.”
He insisted this was “no knee-jerk reaction”.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt raised the issue of contentious parades and protests at the party leaders meeting five weeks ago, but republicans “do not want to talk”, he added.
‘Face down loyalist bullies’
The only Independent representative in the new Causeway Coast and Glens Council has described the erection of a flag in the grounds of a Catholic chapel in Dervock as a hate crime.
He did, however, stress it was unreflective of the community in the area who rejected the attack on the chapel. Councillor Padraig McShane said: “To erect a Union Jack in the grounds of a chapel is comparable with erecting a BNP flag in the grounds of a mosque.” The councillor also called on unionist politicians to “throw off the shackles of fear and face down the loyalist bully boys” in villages like Dervock, Mosside and Bushmills.