The Ulster Unionist Party has called on the Secretary of State to use her speech at the Conservative Party Conference on Sunday to grant an independent investigation into parading in north Belfast.
In a speech delivered at a demonstration on Woodvale Road on Saturday afternoon, Ulster Unionist Party Councillor Alex Redpath said:
“Once again the Parades Commission has got it wrong.
“This latest determination merely compounds the failure of its previous decisions.
“This was to be a Church parade on a Sunday, to commemorate the signing of the Ulster Covenant on 28 September 1912.
“It would have been a solemn and dignified occasion as befits the memory of the Covenant but it was too much for the discredited Parades Commission which has dug itself into a hole and just keeps digging, seemingly incapable of finding a way out, despite the voices of reason that came directly to their table from all the pro-union parties.
“The right to freely assemble and to parade is key in a liberal democracy. It is even enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights – as both an elected Unionist politician and a practicing lawyer, I know Republicans are not slow to quote that Convention – when it suits them!
“With rights come responsibilities, and the people of Ligoniel and the loyal orders have demonstrated that they want to be responsible and reasonable, that they want to be good neighbours and that they want to reach a long-term solution.
“Historically a number of routes in the city of Belfast have been given up. Forty years ago there were parades on the Grosvenor Road and the Antrim Road from Carlisle Circus. To that we can add the Ormeau Road.
“Parades have been scaled down. Music has been changed so that only hymn tunes are played at certain locations or stretches of road. Single drumbeats have been heard, as a mark of respect from an organization demonstrating total discipline and a single-minded purpose.
“The Loyal Orders do not seek to offend anyone. They merely seek the human right to parade peacefully, lawfully and respectfully. We also accept that others have the right to object – to stand in protest if they want. But we utterly reject their use of the threat of violence to get what they want.
“Sadly, the Parades Commission failed in their public duty to stand for what is fair and right. Instead they shamefully wilted in the face of successive outbreaks of republican violence at Ardoyne choosing to first restrict and then ban the return Twelfth of July parade by the Ligoniel lodges.
“In a foolish and dangerous step they rewarded violence and sent out a dreadful message that the rights of peaceful marchers can be over-ruled in the pathetic rush to appease violent protestors.
“The area which we are standing in today suffered greatly during the Troubles. It is an area that is entitled to ask where is its share of the ‘peace dividend’?
“We live in a divided society and we have a right to expect the powers that be to take account of that and to rule fairly.
“As you know only too well, that has not been the case with regard to the Parades Commission and its determinations in this part of the world.
“If a shared future is to mean anything, then we need to start by sharing the present.
“We could do no better than to begin here in north Belfast by sharing a short stretch of road.
“My Party Leader has been clear that the issues that unite unionism are more important that the factors that divide us. The Ulster Unionist Party will always put the future of Northern Ireland ahead of petty party political interests. We will do what is right for the country. In this case, the right thing to do is for unionism to stand united.
“We did it this summer – working together to deliver the most peaceful summer in recent memory - and in doing so, we sent an incredibly powerful message – a message we know was received and understood by the nationalist people, by the republican community, and by the British and other Governments – some, of course, were disappointed and even troubled by our self-discipline.
“Our message is simple. We, the unionist people of Northern Ireland, are loyal, lawful and tolerant, even in the face of massive and unreasonable provocation.
“And together, we can deliver good things for everyone.
“So my message today to our neighbours and our Government is simple – be reasonable. Look at the facts. Look at the law. Look into your own souls. Then put your hand up – and admit you got it wrong.
“A week ago, we were celebrating the result of the Scottish Referendum on Independence – a great result for common sense.
“I leave you with two thoughts from that vote.
“The first is that it explodes the Sinn Fein myth that geography is destiny. It is not. We are a complex set of peoples on these islands and Sinn Fein can no longer promote their simplistic “two island, two strategy” approach. They want a single country on this island, but at least two independent states on the bigger island off our shores. Sinn Fein are – yet again – speaking with a forked tongue.
“The other point is that the debate on Scottish Independence forced the three main political parties in London into a rare show of unionist unity. The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all came out in favour of maintaining the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
“Lets build on that, to our advantage.
“Tomorrow, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland makes her speech at her Party’s Annual Conference. I call on Theresa Villiers to use that speech to tell us you are giving us an independent investigation into parading in north Belfast. It’s the only way to break the deadlock. The Belfast Telegraph supports it. Even the Parades Commission knows it makes sense.
“History, tradition, and human rights are on our side.
“I call on Theresa Villiers to acknowledge and respect that tomorrow.
“Let them home!”