A call has been made by the Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland for “peaceful and legal protests across Northern Ireland” in the coming weeks in opposition to the Parades Commission.
Speaking at the Twaddell Avenue protest on Saturday, Edward Stevenson also strongly criticised Secretary of State Theresa Villiers for not going ahead with the parading panel and accused her of “burying her head in the sand” over the issue.
Mr Stevenson was speaking on the 603rd day of the protest which was initiated after restrictions were placed on three Ligoniel lodges during their return march on July 12, 2013,
Addressing the Secretary of State, Mr Stevenson said: “Ms Villiers – you may be currently more interested in plotting your exit strategy from Northern Ireland politics ahead of the forthcoming General Election – but that is no justification for burying your head in the sand when it comes to this issue.
“Your focus must extend beyond Chipping Barnet or your potential next seat at the Cabinet table; but instead should be on this festering sore in north Belfast. As Secretary of State, you simply cannot duck your responsibilities.
“The onus remains solely on you alone to facilitate fair and equitable parading legislation rather than go through the optics of announcing a ham-fisted consultation exercise.
“The power rests with you to resolve this impasse, allowing the Ligoniel brethren to return home.”
He added that the Secretary of State’s “disgraceful U-turn not to proceed with a parading panel – called for by the unionist collective – was not only a sop to Sinn Fein, having been announced to the world with great glee by Martin McGuinness; but also confirmation of your commission’s ongoing pandering to the threat of republican violence”.
“Such moral cowardice is unacceptable and flies in the face of the shared future espoused by the Northern Ireland Office,” he added.
He said that in “this context and against such a backdrop that I would encourage Orange brethren and our supporters to demonstrate their displeasure at the current situation by holding peaceful and legal protests across Northern Ireland, at times and locations of their choosing, over the coming weeks”.
Mr Stevenson said the lawful rallies “will be held in solidarity with our Orange brethren here at Ligoniel, and Drumcree, and will be a public show of our dissatisfaction at the ongoing and persistent demonisation of our Loyal Institution”.
He said the Orange Institution will also begin a series of meetings with elected representatives to maximise political support “for our long held campaign to replace the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 with a fairer and more balanced regulatory system”.
Referring to the naming of a children’s play park in Newry after IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh, banning the sale of poppies at Mid Ulster District Council, and the “scandalous omission of the Union Flag from our driving licences”, Mr Stevenson said “the mask has truly slipped regarding the bona fides of political nationalism and republicanism”.
“Such actions must galvanise Orangeism, unionism and loyalism to unite like never before,” he said.
“We must come together in the face of such an orchestrated campaign and protect and preserve our cultural heritage. No one else will do it for us.
“That is why I ask every Orangeman and unionist to redouble their efforts in a determined response, and support us in our drive to replace the Parades Commission and our long-held campaign for the provision of new legislation.”
He said the Orange Institution “is the cement which binds unionism together” and “the unionist family around the Province who are the last line of defence in the cultural war, waged by republicans”.
Opposition to march ‘is about intolerance’
The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has said the need for ongoing Saturday demonstrations in north Belfast “exposes the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of republicans and nationalists, and any notion of shared space in our capital city, or indeed anywhere in Northern Ireland”.
“One must ask again – why can three lodges not complete their Twelfth parade, in a safe and dignified manner, up the main arterial route of the Crumlin Road to Ligoniel Orange Hall?” asked Edward Stevenson.
He said “republican opposition to this traditional parade” is about “intolerance”, “hatred of all things British; and, significantly in this area, it’s about internal republican politics”.