Political leaders who visited Derry on Friday to attend a British-Irish Council meeting expressed hopes for a peaceful marching season across the North.
The meeting was attended by First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinnesss, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond andWelsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, as well as the leaders of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
Speaking at a press conference following the 20th British Irish Council summit, the leaders all issued calls for a peaceful summer amid fears of a rise in tensions following the loyalist flag protests.
Mr McGuinness said the events of recent weeks, including the City of Culture celebrations, have presented a great image of the North to the world.
“I think there is a huge responsibility on anybody contemplating violence of any description to recognise that they have a duty to respect our peace.
“Peace is the overwhelming wish of this island, of all of the people who live on this island.
“I think anybody who would even contemplate engaging in conflict and violence, not obeying the law and order strictures that are laid down, not obeying the parades commission’s determinations, need to shake themselves and recognise that not just do they do a great disservice to the community they come from, but they also do a disservice to themselves and their families,” he said.
Mr Kenny also said he hoped the City of Culture celebrations can dissuade others from violence.
“The images of Northern Ireland in the last short period have been an expression of a region that has changed its attitude completely. It is absolutely fundamental that people expressing their right to have parades should do nothing to do down the image of Northern Ireland. If they were to speak to the young people involved in the City of Culture and the inspiration and motivation it gives them, they would think twice about engaging in activities that are not in the interests of peace.”
Mr Robinson said presenting a positive image of the North could help boost trade. “I hope that everybody recognises that the message we send out to the international community is one that this is an inviting place, a welcoming place, a place that you should come visit and invest. Culture is there to be enjoyed and celebrated. It is about colour and vibrancy. It is not something to mark divisions. I hope there will be respect shown right across the community.”