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Villiers’ plea over parades body

Republic of Ireland Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers at Stormont House, Belfast

Republic of Ireland Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers at Stormont House, Belfast

The Parades Commission must not be undermined by any review into contentious marches, the Northern Ireland Secretary said.

Unionists and Orange Order leaders have urged Theresa Villiers to hold an inquiry to look at issues surrounding the Order’s return route in north Belfast, which has been a flashpoint for sectarian confrontation. Sinn Fein has argued that their demands are “lopsided”.

Theresa Villiers met Irish foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan in Belfast to discuss the issue but said it could be some time before she makes her decision.

She added: “I have not been prescriptive about what the answer is. It would be an important pre-condition that whatever was set up did not undermine the Parades Commission.

“There is a need for something to be done to try and do more to bring people together to build mutual trust and understanding in North Belfast but certainly views are sharply divided about what that might be and what might be appropriate.”

The Parades Commission is a government-appointed body which adjudicates on public processions and imposes restrictions on ones likely to be seen as contentious by local residents. The vast majority of marches are by loyal orders and most are not contentious.

Ms Villiers said she would reflect carefully before making her decision on whether to hold an inquiry into the situation in Ardoyne and warned that may not be imminent.

This year was the first peaceful Twelfth of July in North Belfast for many years.

The Orange Order and political parties including the DUP and UUP are concerned about the ongoing Commission ban on the return leg of a parade in the area on July 12 because of the danger of inter-communal trouble.

In previous years rioting has broken out at Ardoyne, sometimes led by republicans, sometimes by loyalists, often leaving scores of police officers injured and turning residential streets into a battleground.

Unionist leaders have said they plan a “graduated response” as part of their campaign surrounding parades and have walked out of talks on marches, the flying of flags from public buildings and dealing with the conflict legacy of thousands of victims and unresolved murders.

This week Oswald Bradley drowned in Bessbrook, South Armagh, trying to remove Irish tricolours from an island and replace them with a union flag.

Mr Flanagan said he wants the political talks between Stormont leaders convened in September.

The member of Dublin’s governing Fine Gael party made his first visit to Belfast as minister.

He said: “We do need to take the temperature and feel the pulse of North Belfast and (ensure) that there is widespread consultation with stakeholders before a decision is made.

“It is imperative that all-party talks at the political level be reconvened at the earliest opportunity.”

He added: “It is important that we set a date of September for the resumption of talks and that will be high on my agenda.”

He held meetings in Belfast with leaders of the main Stormont parties including first minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.

 

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