Northern Ireland

NI parades: Justice minister calls protest rallies plan 'irresponsible'

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Media captionDavid Ford said the planned rallies would put further pressure on police officers

Northern Ireland's justice minister has described a plan to stage at least 18 protest rallies over a Belfast parade dispute as "utterly irresponsible".

David Ford said PSNI resources were already stretched due to a nightly protest over the march, that was costing £1m every month to police.

He said the proposed rallies would put officers under even more pressure.

The rallies have been planned as part of unionists' "graduated response" to a Parades Commission ruling on the march.

Protest camp

Mr Ford told the BBC's Nolan programme: "The pressure which is being put on the PSNI - not just the financial pressure but actually the pressure in terms of officers having to work long overtime shifts because of the presence of that group of protesters at Twaddell Avenue - should be over.

"And any suggestion that people should be putting further pressure on the resources of the police in these circumstances is utterly irresponsible."

For the last two consecutive summers, the Parades Commission has ruled against a disputed Orange Order parade completing the return leg of its annual 12 July march along a stretch of the Crumlin Road in north Belfast.

The stretch of road separates a mainly unionist area from a largely nationalist area.

Loyalists have maintained a continuous presence at a protest camp on Twaddell Avenue, at the Woodvale/Ardoyne interface, since the first ruling in July 2013.

'Financial problems'

Mr Ford told the programme that demonstrations like the one at Twaddell Avenue "suck in a huge amount of police resources".

"We are spending £1m a month, we are tying up hundreds of officers every night in policing a very small area of north Belfast at a time of huge financial problems for the justice system," he said.

"That is simply not the act of responsible politicians"

UKIP MLA David McNarry told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme there was no need for any major police presence at Twaddell Avenue.

"Who is going to cause any trouble. What is the problem there," he said.

"At this moment of time, and for a number of months, people will tell you there is no need for the police presence there.

"Why doesn't David Ford say to the chief constable let's have a test and pull back the police. Then see if there's any trouble," he added.

Mr McNarry rejected claims that it would be irresponsible to stage rallies over the parade dispute in north Belfast.

He said the matter was now in the hands of the secretary of state who is considering whether to hold an inquiry into the dispute.

Budget cuts

Mr Ford also told the Nolan Show that the Parades Commission was set up by lawmakers in Westminster to make rulings on disputed marches and its decisions should be respected.

"Those who claim to be British citizens and democrats should accept the view of a lawfully constituted body set up by parliament," he said.

The justice department's budget was cut by £22m over the summer, as a result of a regular reallocation of Stormont spending known as the June monitoring round.

On Wednesday, Mr Ford warned that the budget cuts could be a resigning matter for him as justice minister.

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