North Belfast: Reaction to unionists' parades inquiry call

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image captionUnionist leaders and senior Orange Order figures held a news conference on Thursday

Unionist leaders have called on the Northern Ireland secretary to set up a legal inquiry into marching issues in north Belfast.

Unionist leaders and senior Orange Order officials announced a number of measures at a news conference to explain what they termed a "graduated response" to a Parades Commission ruling in north Belfast.

Here are their statements, along with reaction from politicians, business leaders and community groups.

Joint unionist statement, read by DUP leader Peter Robinson

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image captionUnionists and senior Orange Order figures signed a pledge calling for peaceful protests on 12 July

"The combined unionist parties call upon the secretary of state to establish a time-bound commission of inquiry with the necessary legal powers and resources to examine the Crumlin Road parades impasse and the wider issues it represents.

"This is consistent with a proposal in last Friday's Belfast Telegraph editorial.

"The issue of the Ligoniel parade will not go away after the Twelfth evening.

"This is a further part of our graduated response strategy, and follows on from our withdrawal from the leaders' talks, ending contact with the so-called Parades Commission and the steps outlined by the Orange Institution.

"In addition, the parties are agreed that at every level - council, assembly, Westminster and Europe - the denial of cultural expression, resulting from republican violence and threats of violence, will have a consequence determining how our members at each of these levels of government will participate.

"We intend to seek an urgent meeting with the secretary of state - the response of the secretary of state to the positive proposal of this commission of inquiry will dictate the nature and timing of those actions.

"We are mindful of the strong will in the community for all elements of unionism to act in a united manner and channel the rightful anger at this unjust decision.

"We reiterate our call for peaceful and lawful actions."

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"We pledge our support for the campaign that challenges the injustice of the Parades Commission and combats the demonisation of our culture, as manifested in our parading tradition and expressions of British identity.

"We unite ourselves on the basis of five points of agreement:

1. We affirm our support for the principles of democracy

2. We reject the use of violence or threats of violence and will seek to counteract those who use the threat of violence for political gain

3. We commit ourselves to peaceful, lawful protest and political action

4. We commit ourselves to the principle of civil and religious liberty for all

5. We seek recognition of the importance of the parading tradition and the freedom to express our culture and identity

"We fully endorse the uniting of unionism around these issues and will undertake not to say or do anything that would weaken the unity of purpose and co-operation that has emerged."

media captionOrange Grandmaster Edward Stevenson said those that want violence should stay away from protests

Mr Stevenson reiterated the Orange Order's stance for lawful and peaceful protests on 12 July.

He said each main demonstration on 12 July would stop for six minutes, the time - the Orange Order said - it would take for the Ligoniel lodge to complete its march in north Belfast.

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"The Parades Commission was set up and constituted by statute as an independent body to deal with disputed parades.

"Unionists are asking for a Commission of Inquiry simply because they didn't get their own way.

"Neither unionists or the British secretary of state should do anything to undermine it.

"The myth of the hollowing out of British culture flies in the face of the facts.

"The number of parades has doubled in the last five years, the number of loyalist bands has also doubled and more than 95% of all loyalist parades are uncontested.

"Walking out of talks with their partners in government and demanding that the British secretary of state imposes a unionist solution can only raise tension and inflame the situation."

"I think it is ridiculous.

"The Parades Commission was set up to ensure there was no partisan or biased view in relation to resolving parades.

"What the Orange Order should do, and spend its energy doing, is making sure people uphold the law.

"This is a nonsense. I don't think that Orangeism or political unionism know where they're going. What is needed is some positive leadership."

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"What they are talking about is a Commission of Inquiry to look at the Parades Commission and its decision-making.

"It seems to me that you can't do that without usurping to some extent the lawful authority of the Parades Commission, so it's a very difficult one for the secretary of state to assent to, without undermining the Parades Commission itself.

"If it is an attempt to establish a super-Parades Commission or some sort of ombudsman to overrule the Parades Commission, I would say that is highly dangerous."

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"This notion of a commission is somewhat of a red herring that is taking us down a very narrow agenda rather than trying to address the issue of parades as a whole.

"We need to have a collective, holistic new approach that all the parties can buy into - that's what we were trying to do with the talks that were brought to an abrupt end last week.

"If there's a willingness now to have a discussion on parades, let's get back to the negotiating table and have a proper discussion involving all the parties on parades, flags and the past, for the long term."

"We urge all concerned taking part in parades or protests to keep them peaceful and avoid Northern Ireland being dragged into the international headlines with scenes of violence. This should also include not blocking roads or arterial routes into town centres.

"The very last thing our recovering economy needs at this time is violence, rioting and disruption. July is a key trading month for retail, hospitality and of course for tourism.

"Many of our members in Belfast city centre and throughout Northern Ireland will be open and trading as normal as possible over the weekend.

"NIIRTA would also urge all of the parties to urgently re-engage the talks process to resolve parades, flags and the shared future agenda. Divided societies are bad for business and will always limit the economic potential of Northern Ireland."

"As usual there will be an enormous burden placed on local community organisations and leaders, at interfaces and elsewhere, to manage tensions and persuade young people not to make negative choices. It will be those same community leaders who will pick up the pieces after the summer as well.

"Whatever agreements or disagreements exist those community leaders, organisations and people getting on with their lives in Northern Ireland over the summer, deserve as positive a backdrop as possible to be created by leaders. It is incumbent on everyone at a leadership level to use language that will be helpful and calming.

"The Community Relations Council has already identified in its Peace Monitoring Report how the women and men of the PSNI have been human shock absorbers for failure elsewhere. Their resilience and restraint has been remarkable to date.

"The PSNI, especially the officers on the ground like local communities, also deserve leaders that will make every effort to use words that calm rather than inflame, promote understanding rather than further division and encourage positive choices rather than negative choices.

"Violence is not inevitable. A peaceful few weeks is possible if all with influence help people make good choices not bad ones."

"Once again, at this time of heightened tension and lack of political consensus on building a shared society, front-line groups are working hard to maintain calm, encourage dialogue and sustain relationships within and between communities. Community groups have today re-stated their commitment to be on the ground to assess tension, monitor developments and prevent unrest wherever possible.

"Dialogue and good community relations practice between interface communities is an ongoing, year-round process. However, emergency response activity often detracts from the overarching peace-building work of the groups.

"The contribution of this essential community relations work is under serious pressure in the current uncertainty around political leadership and support, and future funding arrangements.

"Community partners call on the executive to acknowledge the good practice on the ground and to give due focus, support, resources and leadership to these peace-building activities.

"Community partners also call for support over the coming days and weeks from politicians, the institutions and civic society to help foster and maintain good relations across the region."

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