Unionists' protest stance condemned

Allison Morris

THERE was widespread political condemnation of the joint stance taken by the main unionist parties who joined with the representatives of loyalism yesterday to threaten widespread protests over the Parades Commission ruling on Ardoyne.

As First Minister Peter Robinson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt pulled out of fresh talks on flags, parades and the past, and vowed to "work collectively" with other unionists to protest against the banning of the return leg of the Ardoyne parade, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said it was "very disappointing".

"Ultimately, the only way to make lasting progress on resolving the contentious issues of flags, parading and the past has to be through renewed dialogue between Northern Ireland's political leadership" Ms Villiers said.

Unionists have said they will no longer be cooperating with "a Parades Commission that does not listen and is immune to reason" adding that "lawful protests is the path we must follow."

UUP negotiator Tom Elliott rejected the suggestion that union-ists had "thrown their dolls from the pram" by walking away from the talks and said they were giving leadership. He said: "A lot of people feel let down by what the Parades Commission has done, a lot of people feel hurt."

Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness said he was "disappointed" that the North South Ministerial Council meeting will not proceed as planned after unionist puled out of the meeting in protest.

"This is clear evidence that the Orange Order is now setting the pace for political unionism and the DUP in particular is now dancing to its tune", said the deputy first minister.

SDLP Policing Board member, Dolores Kelly said developments showed there were "dangerous mixed messages" coming from unionism.

"Unionist politicians must be clear and unequivocal in their support for the rule of law".

SDLP party leader Alasdair Mc-Donnell however appealed for calm in the face of the growing political crisis.

"If we have learned anything in 40 years it is that you can make all the threats you like, you can destabilise what you like but at the end of the day you have to come back to the institutions. We need the institutions to hold our community together."

Joe Marley of the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association said it was another case of political unionism "not showing any degree of positive leadership".

"They should be using their office to call for cool heads and not be providing political cover to those intent on bringing violence to the streets.

"Given the current level of tensions there is now a role for Church leaders to use their good office to discourage political unionism acting in a reckless manner as it has with the joint statement ", he added.

Alliance Party leader and justice minister David Ford said "over £10m since last July" has been spent on policing the top of Twaddell Avenue.

"That is now likely to increase because of the utterly irresponsible and disgraceful behaviour of the two unionist parties", Mr Ford said.


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