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

Scottish Protestants Against Discrimination (SPAD), an umbrella campaign, has offered to sit down with its critics to diffuse sectarian tensions in the city.

Their offer 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, prompting a series of counter-protests by campaign group Call it Out outside places of worship passed by parades.

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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.

“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 Father Thomas White was attacked in July, last year.

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

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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.”

Today, Glasgow Sheriff Court will hear an appeal against a council decision to reroute weekend parades away from St Alphonsus’ Church.