A senior Democratic Unionist tonight rejected claims by Gerry Adams that his party did nothing to help deliver peaceful Twelfth of July Orange Order marches.
East Derry MP Gregory Campbell disputed Mr Adam’s claims after the Sinn Féin leader revealed his party took part in groundbreaking discussions with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in advance of yesterday’s controversial Orange Order parade past the nationalist Ardoyne area of Belfast.
“Over 700 republican stewards were on the ground at flashpoint areas across the six counties,” the Sinn Féin leader revealed.
“Martin McGuinness was on the ground in Maghera, Philip McGuigan in Dunloy, Pat Doherty in Castlederg, John O’Dowd in Lurgan and myself and Gerry Kelly in Ardoyne.
“There was also contact in some areas with representatives of unionism and Protestant churchmen. I want to make it clear that the DUP played no positive role in any of this.”
Mr Kelly confirmed he held talks with police about the security operation around the Ardoyne parade.
They took place despite Sinn Féin’s refusal to endorse the PSNI.
As a result there were no British Army soldiers in the area or huge security screens erected to keep nationalist protestors at bay from the Orange march.
Police also pulled out of the area within 20 minutes of the Orangemen walking up the road and their supporters being bussed up.
Mr Adams said: “I believe that it is time for the Loyal Orders to review their attitude to their nationalist neighbours and they should be led in this effort by their political leaders in the unionist parties.
“Dialogue and agreement is the only to resolve these issues.
“Sinn Féin stands ready to meet with the representatives of the marching orders at any time.
“We uphold the right of the Orange Order to march but they clearly have to talk to their neighbours so that marches are conducted in a way acceptable to everyone.”
The DUP’s Gregory Campbell insisted his party had been involved behind the scenes for a number of years in trying to ensure a peaceful parading season took place.
“This contrast with Gerry Adams who has been quoted as saying that nationalist residents groups didn’t come about by accident,” the East Derry MP said.
“While republicans have been creating the difficulties, we have been trying to resolve them so any criticism from that quarter will be treated with contempt.”
Mr Campbell also rejected Mr Adams claims that unionist leaders had remained quiet about a number of disturbing sectarian incidents over the past few days including the burning on a bonfire in Ahoghill in north Antrim of an Irish Tricolour with an offensive slogan about Michael McIlveen, a young Catholic killed in a sectarian attack two months ago.
The DUP MP said his colleague, Ballymena councillor Tommy Nicholl had condemned those behind the insults to the McIlveen family.
“We not only condemn this but over the past 35 years we have asked people to give any information they have to the police so the perpetrators can be brought before the courts and dealt with properly so justice can be seen to be done,” he said.
“That approach is in very stark contrast to the approach from Gerry Adams and those in Sinn Féin can’t bring themselves to condemn some incidents and can’t go the second mile and say that information should be given to the police.”
Despite tonight’s row between Mr Campbell and Mr Adams, security chiefs and the Irish and British governments will be hoping that the quiet Twelfth of July parade bodes well for the rest of the summer.
Northern Security Minister Paul Goggins claimed people in the North woke up to a different July 13 than had been experienced in the past.
“When previously he would have been reviewing the previous day’s disorder and violence, today we look back at what was an overwhelmingly peaceful occasion - the first time for over 30 years that the military were not deployed on the streets of Belfast on July 12,” the minister said.
“This was no accident or coincidence.
“It was achieved with the tireless efforts of people from all parts of the community – from the Loyal Orders, nationalist residents and stewards, community representatives, the Parades Commission and the police.”
Mr Goggins said a new approach was being taken to resolving parades disputes, with local accommodation being reached in the majority of cases.
In some cases where the Parades Commission had made a determination, it had been respected even if one side or the other did not approve of the decision.
The minister said the other factor had been the different approach taken by the Parades Commission and the chairman Roger Poole and he claimed that their insistence that local dialogue should take place in contentious marching areas had helped.
“Clearly we cannot rest on our laurels,” Mr Goggins said.
“There were isolated acts of sectarianism and disorder yesterday that remain totally unacceptable.
“There are also more parades due to take place in the coming weeks and one peaceful season does not mean that the issues have been resolved for the long-term.
“The engagement that has been taking place must not be allowed to stall. Indeed it must intensify, we have a huge opportunity to entrench the progress that everyone has made.”