Unionists and order outline 'graduated response' details
A WEEK after unionist leaders walked out of all party talks, details of the planned 'graduated response' to the banning of the Crumlin Road parade on the Twelfth were presented yesterday by the Orange Order.
With the countdown on to tomorrow's annual Orange demonstration, Grand Master of the Orange Lodge of Ireland Edward Stevenson said that the "time had come for unionists to stand up and be counted".
Speaking at the gathering in Ballymacarrett Orange Hall in east Belfast Mr Stevenson said each main parade would stop for a period for six minutes and said it was significant because it represented "the length of time it takes the Ligoniel parade to walk along the Crumlin Road".
Protests will also take place tomorrow evening. However the senior Orangeman said they would not be in "contentious areas"
He said: "The unionist people will be unforgiving of anyone who seeks to destroy the cooperation we display today".
Seated at the table alongside the head of the Orange Order was First Minister Peter Robinson, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and PUP councillor Billy Hutchinson along with Ian McLaughlin of the west Belfast UPRG.
Richard Cairns was representing the TUV in the absence of leader Jim Allister with the proceedings chaired by the Rev Mervyn Gibson.
Mr Robinson said that the 'graduated response' would go on well beyond tomorrow and called for the secretary of state to set up a "time-bound commission of inquiry" to look at the parading impasse.
For the second year running the Parades Commission ruled against permitting three Ligoniel lodges to march a section of the Crumlin Road during the return leg of the annual Twelfth parade.
Last July loyalists clashed with police at Woodvale Road where the parade was stopped by police, with more than 70 officers injured in clashes across Belfast.
The DUP leader warned there would be "consequences" to the banning of the march with all the unionist parties agreeing a series of measure to be implemented at every level of government.
"Council, assembly, Westminster and Europe - the denial of cultural expression resulting from republican violence and threats of violence will have consequences determining how our members at each of these levels of government will participate," Mr Robinson said.
"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."
"If you take down one flag you'll get hundreds. If you stop one parade you get more. Our culture will not be put down".
Responding to the unionist unity statement Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the British government "will want to look carefully at the proposal".
Unionist and senior Orange Order figures also signed a five-point pledge calling for peaceful protests.
Orangemen and loyalist bands taking part in tomorrow's parade will be asked to sign the pledge.
PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said that there were no plans at present for party activists to steward the north Belfast parade.
"That's a matter for the Orange Order. We need to see what's going to happen. We have to remember it's the Orange Order's parade, as elected representatives of the area myself and Julie Ann Corr will be there".
Mr Hutchinson would not be drawn on speculation that the protest camp at Twaddell may now be dismantled as part of the 'graduated response'.
The camp has to date cost more than £10 million to police.
"You'll have to wait and see. That's what the graduated response is. The reality is we have a plan and you'll have to wait and see what happens", Mr Hutchinson said.
Police erected metal security screens at the Twaddell interface yesterday in preparation for Saturday's march.
Chief Constable George Hamilton said he was "heartened" by the call for peaceful protest.
"What we have got here is some leadership from unionists and the Orange institutions, and that is a good thing," he said.
"It is positive that those people in public life, with civic and political responsibility, channel protest in a way that ensures that any activity is within the law."