Loyal order groups have extended an olive branch to those protesting against them as Glasgow braces itself for a summer of parades disputes.

In a rare peace overture, Scottish Protestants Against Discrimination (SPAD), an umbrella campaign, has offered to sit down with its harshest critics to diffuse sectarian tensions on Clydeside.

Their gambit came on the eve of a court challenge by marching groups against a Glasgow City Council decision to force them to re-route processions away from an East End Catholic Church.

Police and other authorities have become increasingly concerned that the church, St Alphonsus in London Road, could become a flashpoint for trouble.

It was here, last July, that a priest was spat upon during an Orange walk. That prompted a series of counter-protests by a campaign named Call it Out outside places of worship passed by parades.

A spokesman for SPAD, whose members include marchers, said: “We need to have dialogue with the council, the police and any groups that are protesting against parades to make sure these tensions do not escalate through the marching season. It should not be hard to sit down and alleviate any problems. We want everybody around the table, including Call It Out."

Jeanette Findlay, who chairs Call It Out, signalled readiness to talk. She said: "We are not familiar with this group but if they are in a position to convince the Loyal Orders to voluntarily re-route anti-Catholic marches away from Catholic churches then we would be happy to explain to them, the council and the police why this is a reasonable outcome which protects everyone's rights."

Ms Findlay continued: ""It seems likely though that they are already aware of our request and the reasons for it."

There have been growing concerns about the politicisation of this marching season since late last year. Those who watch sectarianism closely have detected a new edge to tensions since Canon Thomas White was attacked in July 2018.

READ MORE: Police say 200 officers needed for Orange parade and counter protest at St Alphonsus church in Calton

Michael Rosie, a member of the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism, urged the various parties to get together.

The Edinburgh University expert said: “Dialogue is becoming increasingly essential, and increasingly difficult. Tensions and anxiety in the East End of Glasgow have risen significantly over the last several months, and they may be spreading further afield.

"If the key problems are parade routes and timing then there are tangible, and resolvable, issues to discuss.

"Getting the parading organisations and the Catholic Church around the table to talk about these would be a significant step toward reducing tensions Such talks would be difficult and sensitive, of course, but the benefits in breaking a frustrating deadlock and in rebuilding trust would be immeasurable.”

Earlier this month Glasgow Council, on advice from police, ordered four groups of marchers to reroute parades that were planned to go close to St Alphonsus this weekend.

This decision will be challenged at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Friday. Legal insiders have been hoping for a court challenge to clarify exactly how and when local authorities can ban Orange marches. It is not clear whether the case on Friday will focus on more than a technical detail of the latest decision, which was taken by officers rather than councillors because it fell over a long holiday weekend.

Councillors will next week decide whether to allow an even bigger parade, by the Glasgow County Orange Lodge, to pass St Alphonsus next weekend.

A senior police officer has already warned his force has concerns over that march, which is expected to attract almost 1000 people.

READ MORE: Orange marchers take Glasgow City Council to court

Superintendent John McBride, Specialist Operations, Police Scotland, in a formal submission to the local authority, said he would need to mobilise 200 officers if that march goes ahead.

That is double the number deployed on May 18 for a march and counter protest outside the same church. Before the Canon White attack there were usually no more than a dozen police covering an Orange march.

Mr McBride said that there has been a “troubling change in the terms of the tone and commentary and rhetoric about Orange Order and Apprentice Boys of Derry processions going past St Alphonsus , and a sister church, St Mary's.

While stressing differing views were nothing new, he said: “positions were becoming more polarised.”

Police noted during the protest this month, as a parade passed the church, there were shouts of “Fenian b******” and “Paedos” from supporters of the parade to the protesters.

Police also cite social media posts from some opposed to the parade regarding the “use of pipe bombs and burning vehicles” close to the proposed route, while not suggesting it was a serious threat Police Scotland said: “It does go some way to evidencing the hardening attitudes of some”.

Mr McBride said: "The policing presence required for the parades would draw on specialist resources from across Scotland for what would be a relatively short deployment outside the church, when in fact a short deviation from the route as notified would mitigate such a need. For the corresponding parade last year the policing operation was a conventional one, with no specialist resources and required 35 police officers.

“For the parade this year, if parading on the route as notified the policing operation will require in excess of 200 officers, many in specialist roles and drawn from across Scotland."

He said: "I would fully expect that a repeat of the events of 18 May is likely or indeed worse given the emotion being directed towards the parades by both sides."

The court action has been taken by four marching organisations. A spokesman for the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland said: “We believe that Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland have acted out with the law in their crusade against the Protestant faith in Glasgow and we intend to challenge their actions through the courts.”

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Glasgow said they did not want such parades banned completely. He said: “We would only ask that solutions are found which respect the right of worshipers and the local residents to go about their business free from fear and anxiety.

Read more of today's top Glasgow stories. 

“It is especially important that consideration is given to the timings of religious services when planning such marches.”