If you have a story call our newsdesk on 01722 426511 or email us. To advertise call 01722 426500.
Judge rejects parade curb challenge
A judge has rejected a legal challenge against a decision to restrict a contentious loyal order parade passing a nationalist area of Belfast at the close of tomorrow's traditional 'Twelfth of July' commemorations.
Dismissing the bid to judicially review the Parades Commission determination prohibiting Orangemen walking along a stretch of the city's Crumlin Road, Justice Weir implored both sides of the dispute to come to a local accommodation over the long-standing impasse.
"Neither the Parades Commission nor the courts are going to be able to solve these issues," he told Belfast High Court.
"These are issues that require a degree of political leadership and courage."
The judge said if a fraction of the energy currently spent pursuing challenges in court or "going on TV" to argue the matter was diverted to sitting down with "some clean sheets of paper and sharp pencils" to hammer out an agreement then a resolution would be reached more quickly.
Up to 50 protest parades are planned by the Orange Order across Northern Ireland tomorrow evening to voice anger at the determination by the Government appointed adjudication body to prevent Orangemen passing a section of the Crumlin Road that sits adjacent to the nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood.
But police and Orangemen have expressed cautious optimism that tomorrow's loyal order commemorations will pass off without a repeat of the serious violence that has marred the event in the past.
While the bitter dispute over the contentious parade in north Belfast remains unresolved, considerable efforts have been undertaken to ensure community tensions that have erupted into major rioting in previous years are channelled in a peaceful manner.
At the flashpoint in the unionist Woodvale area where the parade will be stopped by police from progressing to the Crumlin Road, Orange leaders have pledged that protest activity will be well marshalled and participants will disperse promptly at the conclusion. A lack of effective marshalling last year was identified as one of the factors that led to violence flaring.
With the total bill for policing parades and flags disputes in Northern Ireland over the last 20 months standing at around £55 million, there is a significant financial imperative in avoiding further trouble this year.
In rejecting the challenge brought by an anonymous supporter of the parade who was angered by the restrictions, Justice Weir insisted the commission had not acted unreasonably.
In recent years when the parade was permitted to pass the Ardoyne, republicans engaged in serious rioting. When it was restricted last year, loyalists were responsible for the disorder.
As the parade has been restricted again this year, the potential for disorder is again seen as most real within the loyalist/unionist community.
The plans outlined by the Orange Order have been accompanied by a joint call from a broad range of unionist and loyalist political parties, including two with links to paramilitary groups, for the Twelfth to pass off peacefully and lawfully.
Grand Lodge of Ireland Grand Secretary Drew Nelson said every effort had been made to deliver a peaceful day. He insisted that any supporter who engaged in violence would be falling into a "republican trap".
"I don't think any organisation within the broad unionist/loyalist/Orange family can do anything more," he said. "We can't make it any clearer that this is a trap - to use violence - that will undermine our cause.
"I think I am a lot more hopeful than I was two weeks ago."
He added: "Let me make it clear, the Orange institution is stepping up to the mark here - we will be organising, marshalling and dispersing these protests."
A senior police source expressed "guarded optimism" about tomorrow. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) source said officers had detected "no appetite for violence" within communities.
Despite hoping for the best, police have made major preparations in case things do go wrong. There will be 3,500 officers deployed across Northern Ireland, almost a third of whom will be in north Belfast.
Of 58 public order units on stand-by (each comprising 25 officers), 36 will be in north Belfast tomorrow evening.
Last year the PSNI operation was supported by 630 mutual aid officers travelling from forces in England, Scotland and Wales. No additional manpower has been ordered this year - though contingencies are in place to call upon the resource if needed.
A stark figure that may well deter young people from engaging in violence this year is the 700 people charged or reported to prosecutors in Northern Ireland last year in relation to parade and protest related disorder. While not all cases have progressed through the criminal justice system, 561 people have been convicted to date and many have ended up in prison, with five years the stiffest term handed down.
The Government has pledged to consider a demand from unionist and loyalist politicians to set up a commission of inquiry into the Crumlin Road parading dispute.
The undertaking from Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers yesterday came after pro-Union political leaders in the region warned that their co-operation in various levels of governance would be affected if such a probe was not ordered.
The call was part of the unionist and loyalist so-called "graduated" political response to the Parades Commission's decision.
The Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists have combined over the issue with the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party, the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG). The PUP has links to the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) while the UPRG would have a similar political advisory role in respect of the outlawed Ulster Defence Association (UDA).