Five new members of the Parades Commission have been appointed as talks over the body’s future reach a climax.
Former US diplomat Richard Haass is holding five-party negotiations which could see the controversial marching arbiter being scrapped.
The new chairman of the Commission will be public housing expert Anne Henderson. Small business champion Glyn Roberts, who has been vocal about the effect of parades-related violence on the local economy, is among other new members.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers made the appointments.
“I very much hope that the Haass talks will lead to a locally agreed means of adjudicating contentious parades in the future,” she said.
“But in the meantime, the Parades Commission remains the legally constituted body responsible for determining these matters and the new chair and members appointed today will have important work to carry out in the months ahead.”
Ms Henderson is a non-executive director of the SS. Nomadic Trading Company. The chartered accountant was vice-chairman of the Housing Executive from 2004 to 2012, during which she spent a short period as acting chairman.
Mr Roberts is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA). He is a former chairman of the Alliance Party.
Chief executive of the Mary Peters Trust, Colin Kennedy, solicitor Sarah Havlin and tribunal judge Frances McCartney will be the other new members beginning work at the start of next month for a three-year term, subject to political agreement on an alternative. Each post is part-time and members will earn £22,000 a year while the chairman will be paid £50,000.
Dr Haass is due to make recommendations on parading, flags and dealing with the legacy of the 30-year conflict to the Executive within weeks.
The Commission has been severely criticised by unionists for imposing restrictions on flashpoint parades, including one near Ardoyne in north Belfast in a decision which has sparked months of protest.
Ms Villiers added: “The new Commission will continue to engage with local communities and parading organisations to encourage local dialogue and locally agreed solutions on contentious parades. I strongly encourage everyone in Northern Ireland with an interest in parading to work with the Commission to ensure their voice is heard.”