Orangemen plan Ardoyne parade ban protests

Orange Order chaplain Mervyn Gibson speaking to the media in Belfast City Hall.
Orange Order chaplain Mervyn Gibson speaking to the media in Belfast City Hall.

The Orange Order is planning to mount a series of protests over the traditional Twelfth period to show its opposition to a decision banning a parade past a sectarian flashpoint in north Belfast.

Orangemen claim the Parades Commission has created a crisis with its determination preventing the annual march in Ardoyne on July 12.

They insisted that demonstrations against the controversial decision will be peaceful.

“We will no longer tolerate the vindictiveness of the Parades Commission and request that it is no longer recognised, acknowledged or engaged with by any member of the Unionist community,” said senior Belfast Orangeman Spencer Beattie.

It is understood one of the protests will be held close to the disputed stretch of road in Ardoyne.

The Parades Commission has ruled that Orange Order members and bandsmen can walk on the contested stretch of Crumlin Road on Friday morning but for the first time has blocked their return march in the evening.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said she did not expect Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Matt Baggott to request her intervention to overturn the Commission’s decision.

Speaking during a visit to a north Belfast peace and reconciliation centre, Ms Villiers appealed for calm heads over the coming days.

“I would urge everyone to work for a peaceful Twelfth of July. I do not have a legal power to intervene the Parades Commission determination. That power is only triggered with an application from the Chief Constable. The chief has not said anything to me and I don’t believe for a moment that he will,” she said.

Yesterday, Democratic Unionist MP for North Belfast Nigel Dodds was expelled from the Commons chamber after accusing Ms Villiers of “deliberate deception”.

The DUP claims the minister could do more to tackle the issue and has recalled the Northern Ireland Assembly next week to discuss the impact of the Parades Commission decision on building a shared future.

An extra 630 police officers are being drafted in from forces across the UK to help the PSNI keep peace on the streets of Northern Ireland over the Twelfth.

Last year officers were pelted with bricks, bottles and petrol bombs during clashes with rioters in Ardoyne. Shots were also fired by a republican gunman hours after the Orange march had past the interface.

Dissident republicans have called off a protest march in Ardoyne on Friday afternoon while another nationalist residents’ group, the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents’ Association, also cancelled its morning protest in a bid to ease tensions.

While reluctant to outline exact details of planned protests, the Orange Order move is likely to create a stand-off in north Belfast.

Orange Order chaplain Mervyn Gibson said the Grand Lodge would not consider the Twelfth celebrations to be completed until members impacted by the commission’s decision were allowed to return home via the Crumlin Road.

“The Parades Commission has created this crisis, let’s be clear about this, everyone has indicated that - as much as said that. By bringing extra police in it shows that the police are worried about the whole situation and that’s because of the Parades Commission’s crazy decision.

“The rest of us have to manage the fallout from that and that’s what we are seeking to do - to have a peaceful protest against this ludicrous determination.”

Mr Gibson denied that the Orange Order stance was provocative.

“We don’t want to up the ante here, we don’t want to raise tensions,” he said.

“What we are trying to do is give vent to people’s anger in a peaceful and controlled way, but there are people out there who are angry, very angry. What we are saying is, ‘control that anger and channel it against the Parades Commission’.”