A member of the supposedly independent Parades Commission has admitted he is working in support of the Protestant Orange Order “from inside the fence”.
Don McKay will be adjudicating on the routing of controversial anti-Catholic parades by the Orange Order through nationalist areas this summer.
Mr McKay, who is a member of Ian Paisley’s DUP, told Orangemen at a public meeting of the Parades Commission in Portadown “not to give in”, claiming he was fighting their cause as an insider.
“From a unionist perspective, we have got to have faith in what we believe in and take the battle forward,” he said.
Pressure is growing on British Direct Ruler Peter Hain to sack that Mr McKay, who has become increasingly embroiled in controversy.
In December it emerged he had submitted the name of SDLP councillor Dolores Kelly as a reference to the commission without her knowledge.
It later emerged that Mr McKay had been the subject of a sectarian harassment case at his workplace.
Although the case was not upheld, the Fair Employment Tribunal said it was satisfied he had played loyalist tunes in a fire station and sold calendars to raise funds for an Orange lodge.
Nationalists have demanded his dismissal. Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition spokesman Breandan Mac Cionnaith said Mr McKay’s comments demonstrated his “unsuitability and complete lack of impartiality”.
Sinn Féin Assembly member John O’Dowd said his position was “untenable” while Ms Kelly said the comments showed Mr McKay was “committed to a partisan Orange agenda”.
A legal challenge against the decision to allow Mr McKay and another senior Orangeman to sit on the Parades Commission is currently pending. Their appointments are understood to have been part of a package of demands conceded by the British government to the DUP last year.
It emerged this week that the Orange Order was consulted about who should be appointed, but nationalist residents groups who have opposed their marches, were not.
The High Court is due to rule on a judicial review of the appointments on May 12.
An Apprentice Boys parade scheduled for Belfast’s lower Ormeau Road on April 17 is being viewed as the first big test for the new Parades Commission.
The last loyalist march to go through the nationalist area was in 2000.
Local residents’ spokesman Gerard Rice said the community had “real concerns” about how the Parades Commission will view the Apprentice Boys marching application.