Recent images of violent confrontations linked to Orange Order parades have prompted the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, to warn they are damaging all attempts to attract jobs and investment there.
Villiers made her remarks after the Orange Order was again denied permission to walk along a predominantly nationalist stretch of the Crumlin Road in north Belfast, the scene of recent rioting.
According to the BBC, Orangemen are expected to parade right to the police lines on Saturday, which many fear could lead to a repetition of the violence that erupted on July 12.
Conscious of the dangers Villiers has appealed for calm.
‘I understand that many people strongly disagree with recent Parades Commission determinations,’ she said. ‘But however they feel, there can be no justification for lawless behavior.
‘People who break the law should be in no doubt that there will be arrests and prosecutions. And those who are convicted risk prison. It also has a serious impact on the reputation of Northern Ireland as we try and compete in the global race for investment and jobs.’
Eager to appeal to calmer heads, Villiers appealed to the Orange Order leadership.
‘The violent protests must stop. I once again call on all those with influence, including the Orange Order, community leaders and politicians, to help defuse tensions and ensure this weekend is peaceful.’
But few believe her appeal will be heard. There were five nights of intense rioting following the original decision to prevent three lodges from walking along the predominantly nationalist stretch of the Crumlin Road in north Belfast that separates loyalist and nationalist communities on 12 July. Many expect a new confrontation to erupt tonight.
For the nationalist community the site and sounds of the parade offer an annual provocation, since they loudly celebrate historic nationalist losses and the massive security operations that accompany them effectively keep them confined within their own streets and homes for hours until the parades pass.
Rather than accept any compromise the Orange Order have instead proposed a new march on Saturday along the same predominantly nationalist route.
The Orders decision to march came after the Parades Commission, the independent body that adjudicates on contentious parades in the North, ruled on Thursday that the proposed parade would not be allowed.
The Commission added it was disappointed that no unionist politicians or Orange Order leaders made any representations to it.
Critics claim that the failure of unionist politicians and Orange Order leaders to engage with the commission robs of its legitimacy in loyalist circles, which means it effectively removes any need to negociate with nationalists on any march route anywhere in the North.
On Friday afternoon, the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast issued a leaflet on behalf of the three lodges that faced the ban on July 12 that lead to violence.
Rather than step back from the brink, the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast states that the march is about showing ‘we have not and will not go away,’ and it calls on supporters to stop at the Woodvale Road at the line of Orange marshalls.
‘After a period the National Anthem will be played and we will all disperse,’ the leaflet says.
It is not believed by many that the marchers and their supporters will go away however. On July 12 Orange Order marchers, some brandishing ceremonial swords, attacked the police officers that were preventing them from marching. The confrontations which also included hooded loyalist rioters were captured by international media crews and broadcast worldwide.
‘No matter what the provocation, violence is not the answer. Any violence will play into the hands of republicans,’ wrote the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast, who are nonetheless promoting the standoff.
The leaflet adds that the organizers' campaign will continue over coming months, certain to add to the cross community tensions after the traditional marching season ends.
Meanwhile a PSNI officer whose head was engulfed in flames after being hit with a petrol bomb in Belfast told the Belfast Telegraph he feared his whole body was on fire.
The 50-year-old sergeant was holding the line against loyalist rioters at the flashpoint area in the north of the city when he was struck by the bottle.
‘All I could see was a sheet of flames in front of me so, I couldn't really determine how much of me was alight,’ he said.
‘I couldn't feel the fire at first but the longer the flames were there I could feel myself burn. I was quite confident that the flames would be put out - it was just a case of making sure that we starved the flames of oxygen to put it out.’
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