The controversy over internet comments by DUP Councillor Ruth Patterson will have dramatically escalated tensions over the planned republican commemoration in Castlederg, which unionists want banned entirely.
DUP leader Peter Robinson heavily criticised the proposed parade, saying it was “hard to think of anything that is more insensitive”. He called for “respect has to be shown to... the victims of IRA terrorism”.
But Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness insisted people of all traditions in the north had a right to honour their dead.
“The big difficulty about all of this, this isn’t something that just applies to republicans and how we deal with the past, it applies to nearly all of us within society and raises up for public debate the issues of how we deal with the past and whether or not people have a right to commemorate those people who have lost their lives.”
Although the organisers announced earlier this week that the parade would voluntarily reroute away from the County Tyrone town’s Cenotaph and Methodist church, further restrictions were issued by the Parades Commission. The commission banned the march from passing through the central Diamond area.
Local Sinn Fein councillor Ruairi McHugh crticised the decision, which he said “has the potential of seriously undermining attempts by local republicans towards addressing contention in Castlederg”.
“This determination makes a mockery of the concept of shared space within Castlederg centre,” he said.
“So far this year there have been 17 loyalist parades in the town. None of these marches were contested in what is a majority nationalist town despite the impact they have on residents.”
Unionists have also opposed a march scheduled to take place in Belfast on August 9, the 42nd anniversary of the introduction of internment, even through the parade passes no sectarian interface.
Human rights groups, trade unions and GAA clubs from across the north have been invited to participate in the parade which could attract thousands of people.
The march, dedicated to ending internment in all its forms, will start in Ardoyne, north Belfast, before eventually making its way down to the city centre and will then pass along Falls Road to Andersonstown, in the west of the city, for a rally.
Among those taking part are Eirigi, the Republican Network for Unity, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, the 1916 Societies and the Irish Republican Socialist Party.
Two previously unknown loyalist groups have applied to the Parades Commission to hold separate protests at Royal Avenue involving up to 150 people at each.
Organiser Dee Fennell said the parade will focus on the internment issue and insisted the parade route was chosen to avoid potential flashpoints. “It’s a human rights parade,” he said. “This is not a republican parade or a dissident parade, it’s a human rights parade that republicans are taking part in. “We have invited trade unions and ex-prisoner groups, including Sinn Fein aligned ones, to take part. “If any former loyalist ex-internees want to come along to oppose the continued use of internment they are more than welcome.”
Mr Fennell said there is some confusion over the two groups planning to hold protests. “They are not residents groups because the parade is not passing any Protestant areas and as far as I know nobody lives in Castlecourt,” he said. He added that parade organisers are willing to meet any group or elected representatives that “have any concerns relating to this parade”.
ARDOYNE TENSIONS FADE
Meanwhile, a loyalist protest at Ardoyne, the scene of very heavy twelfth of July rioting this year, appears to have dissipated.
Three weeks ago protesters vowed to remain in north Belfast until Ligoniel Orangemen were allowed to march past the nationalist area.
Despite the fact that no-one took part in a scheduled demonstration at the Crumlin Road interface this week, a loyalist spokesman later denied that the protest had been abandoned.