Appeals for calm ahead of annual loyalist parade in North

Unionist and loyalist leaders meet Parades Commission

Sinn Féin North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly said the Tour of the North parade could set the tone for the rest of the marching season. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Sinn Féin North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly said the Tour of the North parade could set the tone for the rest of the marching season. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

There have been appeals for calm as the North’s marching season begins to reach its most difficult stage.

The annual loyalist Tour of the North parade is taking place in north Belfast tonight with Sinn Féin North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly warning that this parade could set the tone for the rest of the marching season.

Meanwhile, senior representatives of the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Traditional Unionist Voice, the Progressive Unionist Party which reflects the view of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Political Research Group, which is linked to the Ulster Defence Association today met the Parades Commission and the PSNI chief constable designate George Hamilton.

Those attending the separate meetings at the commission’s office and at Antrim Road PSNI station included DUP leader Peter Robinson, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and TUV leader Jim Allister.

That meeting, it is understood, discussed several forthcoming Orange and other loyal order and loyalist parades including tonight’s Tour of the North parade.

The unionist and loyalist leaders focused on the disputed Orange Order proposed parade past the Ardoyne shops in north Belfast on the evening of July Twelfth. This return parade has resulted in serious disorder in north Belfast in recent years with fears of repeat violence this year.

Last year Orangemen were banned from returning past the Ardoyne shops which led to serious violence as loyalists attacked police lines blocking them on the Woodvale Road. It also resulted in the creation of Camp Twaddell in north Belfast with loyalists insisting they will maintain this protest until Orangemen are allowed march past the shops on the Crumlin Road.

The unionist and loyalist leaders after their meetings said that “they stressed the severity of the situation and the imperative that the Parades Commission stands firm against the continuing threat of republican violence and does not allow itself to be further bullied into unfair determinations that undermine community relations”.

Mr Robinson urged that people “keep cool” during tonight’s Tour of the North parade. “We look for people to keep cool in these circumstances, to ensure that the traditions that are part of our culture are not tainted by violence,” he said.

“Of course people will be unhappy with some of the decisions of the Parades Commission but I hope that the Orangemen have an enjoyable evening and that it is a peaceful occasion,” added Mr Robinson.

Sinn Féin MLA Mr Kelly said there currently “exists an opportunity to deal with the difficult issues of parades, the past and flags through all party talks and that must be grasped”.

The last thing people needed was a raising of tensions during tonight’s parade. “The Tour of the North parades can often set the tone for the summer and I’m appealing for calm on Friday evening,” he said.