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Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to hold Parades talks

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has confirmed she will meet unionist leaders in the next few days to discuss the proposal for a legal inquiry into the ongoing parading issue in north Belfast.

First Minister Peter Robinson and others are calling for an investigation after the Parades Commission barred the Orange Order from marching along a stretch of the Crumlin Road that separates unionist and nationalist communities last month.

In the Commons today, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis asked his opposite number how she would respond.

He asked: “Will you indicate how you intend to respond to the First Minister’s request for a Commission on Ardoyne and wider association issues?

“What are you going to do to strengthen confidence in the down-graded Parades Commission you established with undue haste and fewer resources than its predecessor?”

Ms Villiers replied: “I can assure you the Parades Commission has not been down-graded.

“I will be meeting leaders of unionist political parties in a few days time to discuss these proposals. I will listen carefully to what they have in mind.

“It is of course important that any way forward on this must take account of the position of the Parades Commission and do nothing to undermine its responsibilities.”

During Northern Ireland questions, she also commended all parties for the peaceful passing of the Twelfth of July celebrations, which have been a flashpoint for sectarian conflict and fighting in the past.

Various groups march to mark the occasion, which celebrates the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Ms Villiers said the absence of violence was a “very important step” for peace, adding: “It has been rare over recent decades.”

She continued: “I commend the efforts made by unionist leaders from a range of parties and the Orange Order, and indeed nationalists as well, to keep the situation calm despite the distress and upset caused by the Parades Commission determination.

“The weekend shows that [violence] is not inevitable. If leadership is demonstrated, then people on the streets will hear that leadership.”

 

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