Northern Ireland’s First Minister has insisted that a proposed commission of inquiry into a parading dispute in Belfast would not be a lop-sided pro-unionist vehicle.
DUP leader Peter Robinson said that the inquiry would hear from nationalists and unionists alike, and rubbished the idea it would be one-sided.
He was responding to criticism from Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, who described his suggested means of resolving the Crumlin Road stand-off as “nonsense”.
Mr McGuinness met Secretary of State Theresa Villiers at Stormont before Mr Robinson, who was accompanied by a range of other unionist representatives, also met Ms Villiers to outline their very different opinions on the prospect of an inquiry.
The Government is still considering whether to respond positively to the request from pro-Union parties to establish the probe.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt told the Secretary of State that “time is of the essence”, and he wants such an inquiry up and running as soon as possible.
A coalition of unionist politicians and Orange leaders called for the commission of inquiry to be set up after the Parades Commission once again stopped a parade passing by the Ardoyne shop fronts in north Belfast on the Twelfth night, warning that their co-operation in various levels of governance will be affected if a probe was not ordered.
Emerging from the meeting with Ms Villiers, Mr Robinson said: “There is a need for people to objectively look at the issue rather than saying ‘this comes from unionism therefore we are against it because we are nationalists or republicans’.
“This is not a one-sided commission, this is a commission that would be talking to everyone who wants to give evidence to it, this is a commission that will want to speak to organisations from the nationalist community just as they will want to talk to the Orange institution and to the political parties.”
Mr McGuinness insisted a commission of inquiry is not the way to deal with the issue, and that a better way is for all parties at Stormont to get back around the table and hammer out an agreement on parades, flags and the legacy of the past.
The DUP and Ulster Unionists walked out of the latest talks initiative in protest at the Ardoyne parade ruling.
“The type of inquiry that is being proposed by the unionists is a nonsense in my view,” Mr McGuinness said after his own meeting with Ms Villiers.
He said he is prepared to look at issues outside of the remit of the Parades Commission, but would not support anything that would undermine the integrity of the adjudication body.
“What unionist leaders need to recognise is that there can be no lop-sided approach to the resolving of the situation at Ardoyne, the responsibility to resolve the situation at Ardoyne rests with all the parties and all of the stakeholders.”
Mr Robinson hit back: “There is no point setting up a commission only to talk to unionists. So let’s be very clear – this isn’t one sided, let’s dispel this thought. The Deputy First Minister is wrong if he think that’s our intention.”
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: “We want to see a process kicked off as soon as possible, reporting before the end of this calendar year. She (Ms Villiers) took that on board but she was not able to indicate today when she will give her final decision.”