Northern Ireland

Orange Order in 'north Belfast 12th contingency plan'

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Media captionThe playing fields could be used for a 12th July demonstration

The Orange Order is exploring the possibility of a contingency plan for the 12 July parade in north Belfast.

It has asked the city council about the availability of Ballysillan playing fields as a meeting or dispersal point.

A senior Orange Order source has told the BBC that organisers want to be able to make a snap decision to change the parade venue if necessary.

It would only be used if they were unable to take their normal route, which passes some contentious areas.

The source added that there had been "a lot of meetings between community groups, loyal orders and bands" in the lead-up to this year's marching season and he emphasised that "there does not have to be trouble."

The Orange Order has said it does not want to comment on the proposal.

The first and deputy first ministers have reacted cautiously to reports of the plan.

Martin McGuinness said details were "sketchy."

"We need to hear more about it but I think there is some intrigue in many people's heads about what all of this represents, " he added.


"I would rather hear stories that would clearly indicate that there is some degree of movement taking place because that opens up the prospect that if people can get involved in a meaningful dialogue with one another that sensible solutions can be found."

The First Minister Peter Robinson said: "I think that any organisation should look at what the alternatives are and consider their options on these matters.

"At the end of the day we're trying to build a shared society and that shared society won't be built unless people can recognise the colour and vibrancy of the culture.

"It may be different in one section of the community than the other but we've got to reach a situation where we can have respect for the culture of others and there has to be a set of circumstances where in expressing our culture we show respect to others as well.

"I think we have to wait and allow them to decide if that is an option they are going to take up and if it is what way it is going to be played out. I can't comment on issues when I don't have the facts before me."

The enquiry about using Ballysillan playing fields was submitted to the council by William Mawhinney, the secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast.

In a letter dated 19 March, he wrote: "On behalf of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast, may I make an enquiry as to the availability of Ballysillan Playing Fields and any associated costs on Friday 12th July 2013 from 1pm to 4pm inclusive."

The request was referred to the council's Parks and Leisure committee.

During a meeting of the committee last week, a few more details of the Orange Order's contingency plan emerged.

A council document stated that the order does not intend to use the playing fields "for an event" but was inquiring about the availability for its car park "as a meeting and/or dispersal point for up to 8,000 people, should the need arise, as part of the parade".

The document said that the Orange Order would provide its own stewards on the day.

Within the council paper it is also noted that Mr Mawhinney has said the order was only enquiring about availability and would confirm their request closer to 12 July.

However, sources within the Orange Order and within loyalism have told the BBC that the site at Ballysillan could be used for a Twelfth demonstration for marchers, bandsmen and supporters from north Belfast, if required.

The sources also emphasised that this was a contingency measure and that, at present, the parade organisers still intend to go ahead with their usual Twelfth demonstration, along their normal route.

At last week's council meeting, it was asked to consider allowing the council's director of parks and leisure to make the decision about the availability of the playing fields to the Orange Order.

But some nationalist councillors on the Parks and Leisure committee have said they are not happy with that request.

They said it was not a decision for one person but one that committee members should make.

The nationalist councillors said they wanted more information about what exactly the Orange Order was proposing.

The committee is due to discuss the request next month.

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