A SENIOR police officer has warned that today’s Orange Order parade past Ardoyne shops will be stopped on the road if it arrives even minutes after the 4pm deadline.
Grand Lodge officials have argued vigorously that complying with the Parade Commission’s ruling is “an impossibility”.
Speaking yesterday afternoon, Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said the PSNI would “uphold the Parades Commission’s determination tomorrow and those timings”.
When asked if the police would over-rule the Parades Commission ruling in the event of a serious public order situation developing, ACC Kerr said: “As things currently stand, I cannot see any circumstances in which the chief constable would use his powers under the Public Processions legislation to change the determination. We will uphold the determination as it stands tomorrow.”
Following the same parade last year, officers fired baton rounds and used water cannon during hours of serious rioting.
As both loyalists and republicans prepared for protests for and against the annual parade, First Minister Peter Robinson — who will be attending the celebrations in Enniskillen with DUP colleague Arlene Foster — issued an appeal for calm.
“Regardless of where people are tomorrow and what they do I would appeal to all sections of the community to ensure we have a peaceful and enjoyable Twelfth in spite of the folly of the Parades Commission,” he said.
“Undoubtedly determinations issued over the last number of days by the Parades Commission have contributed to a very difficult situation in Belfast and other locations throughout the Province. It is clear for all to see that the Commission has issued rulings that are utterly impractical. The Commission has demonstrated its total incompetence.”
Mr Robinson said it was vital that “no section of the community allows itself to be drawn into a violent reaction or confrontation” and added:
“Confrontation only damages the progress made in recent times and will play into the hands of dissidents who are intent on stirring trouble.”
An eleventh hour legal attempt to over-turn the Parades Commission ruling was looking increasingly unlikely last night when an unnamed loyalist who had applied for legal aid to challenge the determination had his application refused.
However, meetings have continued to take place between unionist political parties, North and West Belfast Parades Forum, police, the Secretary of State and the Parades Commission in an effort to find a resolution.
The loyalist, who is understood not to be a member of any of the loyal orders, wanted to challenge the Commission’s determination that a number of lodges returning home following the main Belfast demonstration must be past the Ardoyne shops by 4pm.
As the main demonstration is not due to finish until 6pm, leading Orange Order officials and unionists representatives have slammed the parading body for a ruling that is “not logistically possible”.
The individual had sought to have the decision overturned in the High Court. It is now understood the decision not to grant legal aid will be appealed.
Permission has been granted for a protest parade by the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) between 5.30pm and 6.30pm while loyalists hold a counter protest only yards away across the Crumlin Road.
Three mediators, former Stormont Assembly speaker Lord Alderdice and clergymen the Rev Norman Hamilton and Fr Gary Donegan, have been exploring the scope for a peaceful solution. They have claimed to have made significant progress but admitted no agreement was reached.
Justice Minister David Ford has also called on politicians and community leaders to continue to use their influence to ensure a trouble-free Twelfth.
Mr Ford said “violence is not inevitable” and that he welcomed the efforts of those working to uphold community relations and prevent Northern Ireland’s reputation being tarnished internationally.
“I hope that those who have influence will continue to show leadership and work with their communities to ease tensions where they exist,” he said.
The Minister warned anyone intent on breaking the law will be face court action and added: “There is no such thing as recreational rioting. Those who take to the street to cause trouble must recognise the possible personal consequences of what they do.”