Orange Order's Edward Stevenson calls for protests across Northern Ireland
The grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, has called for peaceful and legal protests across Northern Ireland over disputed parades.
Edward Stevenson was speaking at a rally in Twaddell Avenue, Belfast, marking more than 600 days of protest over a contentious march in the area.
The nightly loyalist protest began in July 2013, after the return leg of a 12 July parade was restricted.
Mr Stevenson described the dispute as a "festering sore in north Belfast".
Several hundred supporters attended the rally on Saturday.
Mr Stevenson told them he 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".
"Such rallies, which will be entirely lawful, 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 demonization of our loyal institution," he said.
"Further to this, the institution will soon be beginning a series of meetings with our elected representatives across the province, at all levels, 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."
In his speech, Mr Stevenson again criticised the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers for not proceeding with a parades panel to examine the north Belfast dispute.
The dispute centres on applications by Ligoniel Orange Lodge to march along a stretch of Belfast's Crumlin Road that separates nationalist and unionist communities.
For the past two summers, they have been refused permission to hold the return leg of their annual 12 July parade along the route.
Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA, Gerry Kelly, described Mr Stevenson's comments as "unhelpful".
"Bringing people on to the street to protest is not the way to find an acceptable solution to this or other contentious parades," Mr Kelly said.
"It is also a further attempt to undermine the Parades Commission, which is the statutory body set up to deal with the issue of contentious parades."