DUP slams Villiers as parades row escalates

Nigel Dodds
Nigel Dodds

Theresa Villiers has been “castigated” by a delegation of DUP MPs over her approach to the north Belfast parading impasse.

Following a meeting with the secretary of state on Wednesday, Nigel Dodds said Ms Villiers must do more to find a resolution to the ongoing protest at Twaddell Avenue which has now lasted more than 600 days.

The North Belfast MP said: “We castigated the secretary of state on her failure since last July to move ahead with any initiative to help tackle the Twaddell situation or the wider issues relating to parades and protests.

“Enormous efforts were made last year on a joint and united unionist basis to try to keep calm on our streets and to move things forward.

“Disgracefully, Theresa Villiers abandoned the plan to have a panel to look at the north Belfast parading issue without coming up with any alternative.”

The DUP delegation also discussed the economy, victims, Stormont budget issues and the military covenant with Ms Villiers at Westminster.

Mr Dodds said the NIO has the legal and political responsibility for parading issues and must do more “than simply issue limp statements full of platitudes” without proposing a resolution, and added: “We called on the secretary of state to give a positive response to the Grand Lodge’s representations to her this week on a new way forward in terms of parades legislation.”

A spokeswoman for the NIO said the secretary of state welcomed the “useful” meeting with the DUP MPs.

“The secretary of state reiterated that the priority for Northern Ireland is a peaceful summer, free of public disorder that would be hugely damaging to Northern Ireland.” the spokeswoman said.

“She encouraged everybody to abide by determinations of the independent Parades Commission as the lawfully constituted body for dealing with parades in Northern Ireland. She encouraged all those involved in the North Belfast dispute to engage constructively with each other to seek a solution to the impasse.”

The spokeswoman added: “The secretary of state accepts fully her responsibility to do what she can to try to find a way forward. Yet others,including local politicians and community leaders on all sides, also need to show leadership. The Stormont House Agreement holds out the prospect for long-term reform of parading legislation and it is essential that the Agreement is fully implemented.”

Earlier this week, the Orange Order met with Ms Villiers in Belfast and formally requested her to intervene in the Twaddell dispute – a protest that arose out of decision by the Parades Commission to prevent an Orange parade along a stretch of the Crumlin Road past Ardoyne.

Orange Order grand master Edward Stevenson, said: “We are fed up with false promises, double speak and constructive ambiguity. The time for the government to act to lance the boil of discrimination that the parading legislation has created is long overdue.”

• On Tuesday night, police responded to a report that a number of youths had attacked banners at the Twaddell Avenue protest camp. One banner was ripped and another had liquid poured over it. Two empty bottles were recovered.

The PSNI said the incident took place around 11.15pm and is being treated as a hate crime.

Chief Inspector Gavin Kirkpatrick appealed for anyone with information to come forward, and added: “As we enter the summer months I would also appeal to the community to help us prevent instances of anti-social behaviour and criminal damage in all parts of our city. Report anything suspicious to police and encourage young people to stay away from areas known for anti-social behaviour issues.

“Parents, I am also asking that you talk to your teenagers and young people about the possible consequences of getting involved in nuisance behaviour and of committing criminal offences.”