Following the “feel good factor” around this year’s Twelfth celebrations, the Orange Order will be adopting a more hard line approach towards the Parades Commission, Rev Mervyn Gibson said.
The Order’s grand chaplain said its members had been content not to jeopardise the positivity of recent months, but were now speaking out - accusing the commission of ignoring their views.
‘They are the most unaccountable body in the United Kingdom’Orange chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson
“Our attitude towards the commission has hardened,” he said.
“The Parades Commission have become the protesters. Nationalists no longer need to protest because the Parades Commission makes the decisions for them. They made decisions over the Twelfth of July based on lies and one-sided information.”
Rev Gibson said a delegation acting on behalf of the Orange Order, including East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, met the commission on July 11 to make representations over restrictions placed on the Twelfth parade along the lower Newtownards Road but did not get a fair hearing.
“They just didn’t listen to them,” he said.
“The sooner the Parades Commission in its current format goes it will hasten resolutions towards parades. The Parades Commission in its current format has nothing to offer Northern Ireland.
“[Chairwoman] Anne Henderson, along with her fellow commissioners, has shown repeatedly that she doesn’t listen to the unionist community.”
Rev Gibson added: “They are the most unaccountable body in the United Kingdom. You cannot appeal their decisions, you can only appeal is their process.
“If they say ‘you can’t have a parade,’ they don’t have rationalise it and we can’t question it. It’s done – you’ve no right to appeal that decision.
“They are a law unto themselves and sadly they are not exercising that law in a fair way.”
Commenting on the July 11 meeting with the commission, Gavin Robinson said: “We got a fair hearing okay, we just didn’t get a fair outcome at the end of it.”
Mr Robinson said the delegation had informed the commission that reports of bands breaching a previous determination on June 18 – by playing music during a service at St Matthew’s chapel – were unfounded, but the fresh evidence did not lead to a revised determination for the Twelfth.
“For the Twelfth of July they based their determination on false information,” he said.
Asked if he was still prepared to make representations to the commission, Mr Robinson said: “Having engaged with them, and having shown them an accurate picture of what happened on 18 June, for them not revise their determination for the restrictions on the parade, I think it puts into question the benefit of doing so.”
A spokeswoman for the Parades Commission said: “The majority of parade organisers and communities share the common objective of peaceful parading and protest with the result that the vast majority of the approximate 2,500 loyalist/unionist parades each year are not considered by the commission, and do not have any conditions imposed by the commission. For the 3.6 per cent of parades which do have conditions imposed, these conditions reflect the impacts of the parade and protest upon community relations, community life, public disorder and the rights of others. Conditions include route, music and other conduct requirements.”
The spokeswoman added: “Peaceful parading should be every responsible person’s objective. The commission will continue to carry out its statutory duties including the promotion and facilitation of mediation as a means of resolving parading disputes.”
One of the commission’s most contentious decisions in recent years has been the ban on Orange lodges from Ligoniel completing the return leg of their Twelfth of July parade along a section of the Crumlin Road at Ardoyne.
While the three lodges usually conduct a protest at the lines of police enforcing the commission’s determination, this year only one took part.
The apparent disconnect sparked speculation that two of the lodges had distanced themselves from their Ballysillan counterparts, however, Rev Gibson told the News Letter there has been no fall out between the three Ligoniel lodges involved in the Twaddell Avenue/Ardoyne parading impasse.
“I have said categorically that there is no split between the three lodges. All are committed to getting up the road to complete the Twelfth of July 2013 parade – all are committed to the protest until they get a resolution, and they have the full support of Belfast County,” he said.