Unionist leaders have come together in a rare show of unity to warn of the potential for “widespread violence” — but have instead urged peaceful protests — after the Parades Commission again stopped the Twelfth of July Orange parade returning past the Ardoyne shops.
The decision, which was published just before midday, was immediately met with a preprepared joint unionist statement.
The statement, which was signed by the DUP, UUP, TUV, PUP and UPRG, said that the DUP and UUP would be withdrawing from Stormont’s “fruitless” talks to discuss parading and other issues which had been part of the failed Haass process.
The Stormont talks had only started yesterday and were due to continue until at least tomorrow but there had been no indication of progress in the early exchanges.
Today’s joint unionist statement also indicates that all unionists will now be boycotting the Parades Commission, a body which it claims is “immune to reason”.
The full statement is below:
Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA, Leader of Democratic Unionist Party, Mike Nesbitt MLA, Leader of Ulster Unionist Party, Jim Allister QC MLA, Leader of Traditional Unionist Voice, Cllr Billy Hutchinson, Leader of Progressive Unionist Party, Ian McLaughlin, Ulster Political Research Group (West Belfast)
“This Parades Commission determination creates a serious situation for Northern Ireland. We know, having seen republican threats of violence being rewarded, the conclusion is swiftly drawn that violence pays. We have, for some time, been aware that such an absurd parades determination would bring with it a very real risk of widespread violence and disorder. In the past number of weeks the DUP, UUP, TUV, PUP and UPRG (West Belfast) have discussed and agreed our united response.
The Unionist parties have pledged to work collectively on this issue. We do so to avert violence and destruction on our streets with the attendant harm that this would cause to Northern Ireland’s community relations and reputation. The desired direction of travel for Northern Ireland has been to leave behind the use and threat of violence. This decision and its surrender to publicly issued republican threats is unacceptable and flies in the face of the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland who want to move forward on a basis where cultural expressions are undertaken with respect and met with tolerance.
The message the Parades Commission has sent out is simple. It has shown that the Commission members place no value on a relationship with unionism and have treated our advice with contempt. It has turned its face away from the evidence including from the PSNI. It is regrettable, but so be it. As a consequence we, as leaders of the unionist community, see no value in continuing contact with a Parades Commission that does not listen and is immune to reason.
If we are to convince unionists that violence is not the only response to those who have consistently succumbed to republican violence and threats of violence we must provide alternative means to channel justified anger and outrage.
There will be a graduated unionist response involving the Orange Institution, the PUL community and political unionism. Unionist leaders are willing to share the strain within the political process. Political action in tandem with peaceful and lawful protests is the path we must follow.
We stress that the only way to secure widespread support throughout the community is conditioned on a repudiation of violence. We cannot lead a campaign against republicans who use the threat of violence as a means of influencing decision making if there are those within our community who stoop to these same foul methods.
We have devised a plan of action that is peaceful. These are difficult decisions but are taken knowing the feelings on the ground and the likely response unless we intervene. We have bound ourselves together to defend our community and culture from the callous disregard of those who pander to republican demands. We will not see our communities destroyed, police and civilians injured and young people left with criminal records. We choose to advocate and follow an entirely peaceful path.
The DUP and UUP will end their participation in the now fruitless Leaders talks. With OTR enquiries underway following the scandal of comfort letters being provided to republican terrorists both parties have already indicated that the issue of the past cannot be resolved at this time. In addition the positions adopted by SF and the SDLP in Dungiven, Belfast and Portadown demonstrate that they do not possess the fairness, flexibility and moderation that is essential if we are to achieve an outcome that would reflect the principles of respect and tolerance that are needed to reach a resolution.
Over the coming days and weeks we urge all those who are justifiably angry and frustrated to remain peaceful and calm. They should channel their activities into the graduated response outlined by the combined leadership of unionism.”