North politicians appeal for peace ahead of Belfast march
Robinson and McGuinness urge interface communities to remain calm amid tensions
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson (right) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have appealed for peace on the streets this summer. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Northern Ireland’s most senior politicians have appealed for peace on the streets this summer.
It comes ahead of the first contentious loyalist march through Belfast tonight.
“As we move into the main parading season we want to ensure that we build on our recent successes and that nothing happens to undermine Northern Ireland’s international reputation or deters potential investors,” Mr Robinson said.
“It is in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland that respect and tolerance are displayed to ensure a peaceful summer.”
On Wednesday, PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott said he was optimistic the parading season could pass off peacefully.
Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness said calm heads were required over the coming months.
“We want to see a society which is strengthened by its diversity, where cultural expression is celebrated and embraced and where everyone can live, learn, work and socialise free from prejudice, hate and intolerance. That requires mutual respect, and I join my executive colleagues and the chief constable in calling for good sense and strong leadership in the weeks and months ahead.
“To those who are thinking of encouraging disorder or may get caught up in it, I have a clear message — it is not wanted and there is no excuse for it. There is no acceptable level of disorder,” he said.
Last night the Orange Order reacted angrily to Parades Commission restrictions placed on the annual Tour of the North, which passes a flashpoint outside St Patrick’s Catholic Church close to Belfast city centre.
In a statement, the order said there was a growing sense of anger and frustration among loyalists and unionists towards the commission, but it also appealed for calm.
“In spite of the obvious provocation, we would call on all not to be drawn into the trap being set by the commission and republicans. Violence is not the answer; other actions are being planned over the coming weeks that will address the inequalities, sectarian hatred and humiliation faced by the unionist community,” the statement added.
Limits have also been placed on the number of nationalist residents group protesters opposed to the march.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Minister for Justice David Ford MLA said resolution of contentious parades was possible. But he also issued a stark warning to those who become embroiled in disorder.
Mr Ford said: “Those people, often young, who become caught up in mindless violence need to understand what is at stake. The weight of the law will be applied to anyone found guilty of rioting, or other serious offences.
“The courts have shown that for some that will mean imprisonment. For many it will mean a criminal record. Equally it needs to be understood that Parades Commission determinations are legally binding - compliance is not optional.”