Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy today called for Orange Order parades tomorrow to be “peaceful and dignified“.
He spoke out after meeting unionist politicians who called on him to overrule a Parades Commission restriction on a parade in north Belfast on Monday evening which has prompted unionist anger and threat of loyalist protest.
The Commission has ruled that a small group of Orangemen returning home from the main Belfast parade up the Crumlin Road and passed the interface with nationalist Ardoyne cannot be accompanied by bands or supporters.
With the threat of possible protest action and road blocks by Orangemen at the end of their main parades, unionist politicians met Mr Murphy at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down calling for him to intervene.
But Mr Murphy made no move to overrule the Commission or to ask it to reconsider its decision.
Speaking after separate meetings with delegations from the Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionists, Mr Murphy made his plea for calm.
“I know how much hard work has gone into ensuring a quiet and peaceful summer. I would urge all political and community representatives to redouble their efforts in the coming days of heightened tension,” he said.
Mr Murphy added: “I understand the frustrations of many involved, but it is in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland to be able to enjoy a peaceful and dignified Twelfth of July.”
North Belfast MP , Nigel Dodds of the DUP, said Mr Murphy could have intervened and branded the Parades Commission decision “bizarre and illogical“.
He said the Commission had acted in a “very arrogant and highhanded way” in refusing to even review its decision.
He said the British government must not allow a situation were “all the good work that has taken place on the ground to create a good set of conditions for parading and marching” to be “undermined and destroyed by an unaccountable, unelected quango that is out of touch“.
Ulster Unionist assembly member Sir Reg Empey, who had talks with Mr Murphy alongside party leader David Trimble, said they too had pressed for a reversal of he Commission decision.
He said: ” Because of the nature of some of these decisions it provokes people and creates tensions and we are about avoiding those and defusing those so that we can have a peaceful Monday.”
Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness spoke to Mr Murphy by phone to express nationalist anger at the threats of protest.
Party colleague, North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly, accused the Orange Order, loyalist paramilitaries and unionist politicians of “deliberately heightening tensions and threatening violence” in order to force an unwanted parade through a nationalist community.
He said the Parades Commission decision to allow the parade past the Ardoyne morning and evening was wrong.
But he said action was still being threatened by the Order so it could “coat trail through the area” along with others , who had in previous years included prominent members of the Ulster Defence Association.
“The Orange Order has deliberately taken a decision in alliance with the unionist paramilitaries and unionist politicians to threaten violence and heighten tensions,” he said.
He added: “The recent capitulation by the Parades Commission to similar threats over the Springfield Road parade has encouraged the Orange Order to adopt this approach.
“ It is completely unacceptable that the nationalist community is being held to ransom and threatened in this fashion.”
Thousands of Orangemen were today making the final preparations for parades across Northern Ireland tomorrow – the traditional Jul 12th high point of the summer marching season as members of the order mark the 314th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.
Before the parades come the traditional 11th Night bonfires marking the opening of the celebrations.
Early today three men were arrested during disturbances at the site of a bonfire in Randalstown.
At the height of the trouble a crowd of over 150 people pelted policed with bottles and stones. There were no reports of injuries.
And in unrelated violence in the centre of Londonderry three police officers were injured when they were attacked by a crowd.
Officers used CS Gas spray during the trouble which broke out when a crowd surrounded members of the PSNI when they tried to arrest a man for disorderly conduct.