Nigel Dodds suspended from Commons over parades claim

A general view during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.
A general view during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.
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Nigel Dodds has been suspended from the House of Commons for the day after he accused Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers of giving a “deliberately deceptive” answer in the chamber.

The Deputy Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party was named by Speaker John Bercow after he refused three times to withdraw the claim he made in a point of order.

Mr Bercow said Mr Dodds was suspended from the Commons for the remainder of the day.

Raising a point of order, the MP for North Belfast said that when he had asked a question earlier to Ms Villiers during Northern Ireland Questions she had failed to address the issue of her powers to overrule the Parades Commission’s decision to ban Orangemen from marching past a sectarian flashpoint which has been scene of serious rioting in previous years.

Mr Dodds said: “Earlier today at Northern Ireland questions, I raised an issue about what... (Ms Villiers) would be doing as a result of the outrageous and scandalous decision of the Parades Commission last night in Northern Ireland, which is causing enormous pain and tension to be rising in North Belfast and across the province and has the potential for severe trouble on our streets.

“In reply to my question (she) did not address the point of her powers on an application by the chief constable. I have to say that in my view that was deliberately deceptive and I think that was absolutely outrageous and will not go down well in terms of people back home.

“(She) has a responsibility to do something about the outrageous decision of the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland and unless she acts there will be difficulties ahead.”

At first, Mr Bercow asked Mr Dodds to rephrase his question as it is against parliamentary rules for one MP to accuse another of deliberately lying.

Mr Dodds should use an “alternative formulation” of words, the Speaker said, and withdraw the comments.

Mr Bercow said: “I must ask you to withdraw those words. It is very clear that those words are disorderly.”

But the MP refused, telling the Speaker that he wanted Ms Villiers to respond to his point before he decided whether or not to apologise.

Mr Dodds added: “The situation in Northern Ireland is extremely difficult and tense and I have to say that people are very, very concerned at what may happen. For the Secretary of State to spend a question time and not to refer to her powers in this matter is, I think, something that is unforgivable and something that cannot be glossed over.”

Mr Bercow replied: “I must warn you, and it pains me to to do this, that if you persist in your refusal to comply with my order to withdraw, I shall be compelled to name him and I don’t wish to do that.

“Can I please ask you, you have made your point... simply to take back those particular words. You must withdraw the words ‘deliberately deceptive’. It is not appropriate to accuse any member of this House of seeking to deliberately deceive or mislead it. Please withdraw the words now.”

But Mr Dodds again refused to do so, telling Mr Bercow that “reluctantly” he could not comply with his demand.

Mr Bercow then ordered him to leave.

He said: “I have made it clear, and I hope the House will accept that it was appropriate to do so, that I cannot engage in negotiation with colleagues whereby they agree to withdraw something if someone else does or doesn’t do something.

“Therefore, very regretfully, after a display of some patience and the proffering of a number of opportunities to make good, I am forced I feel under the power given to me by Standing Order number 43 to order you to withdraw immediately from the House for the remainder of this day’s sitting.”

At this point Ms Villiers was invited to respond.

Referring to Mr Dodds’ questions this morning, she said: “He (Mr Dodds) will appreciate from the conversation that we had this morning that any powers I have to intervene and review the decision of the Parades Commission are only triggered as a result of an application by the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (Matt Baggott).

“I have not received such an application. If I did, I would of course consider the exercise of my powers with the greatest care.”

The row erupted after the Parades Commission banned Orangemen from walking along a stretch of the Crumlin Road - in the nationalist Ardoyne area on Friday.

Restrictions imposed by the Parades Commission, which was set up to rule on potentially troublesome parades and associated protests, included a one-hour time limit and that it did not reach the Crumlin Road.

Protesters claim the annual Orange Order procession causes major inconvenience with residents hemmed into their area while police facilitate the bands and lodges.

However, the hard line collective has been widely blamed for orchestrating violence which has seen police battered with bricks, bottles and petrol bombs during violent clashes. Shots were also fired and a pipe bomb hurled at police lines in Ardoyne last year.

For the first time, the Parades Commission has ruled that the Orange Order cannot hold an evening parade past Ardoyne after intensive talks with nationalist residents failed to reach agreement.

In Northern Ireland questions in the Commons earlier, Ms Villiers said the decision must be respected after Mr Dodds called for the Commission to be scrapped.

In his question, Mr Dodds asked the Northern Ireland Secretary: “You will be aware of the perverse decision that was made last night by the Parades Commission, which rewarded bad behaviour and has punished good behaviour in relation to parading.

“What are you going to do about it?”

Ms Villiers replied: “I believe that it is important for all of us, both in this House and the Northern Ireland political parties, to call on all concerned to work towards a peaceful 12 of July.

“It would be hugely damaging to Northern Ireland if the good news of the G8 were blighted by scenes of rioting on the streets of North Belfast.”

Mr Dodds replied: “We want to see that peaceful situation continue, we don’t want to see any rioting on our streets.

“Do you accept that the Parades Commission has made the situation immensely worse, has created severe tensions because the republicans who brought machine guns out and attacked the police last year and shot at them, whilst loyalist and unionists behaved impeccably, republicans have been rewarded throughout, unionists have been punished?

“How on earth do you expect people to react in that situation?”

He added: “Isn’t it time for that Parades Commission to go and to be replaced by something more sensible?”

Ms Villiers, however, insisted their decision was final.

She said: “Well, I know that the member for North Belfast has strong views on these matters and the fact that these events relate directly to his constituency give him an important say on this.

“I recognise the anger in parts of the loyalist community in this decision, but it is vital that people recognise the Parades Commission is a lawfully constituted authority; respect for the rule of law is crucial.”

She added: “It would be immensely damaging to Northern Ireland if we had a violent 12 of July. So whatever people think of the Parades Commission determination, I hope they will listen to the statement made by all five party leaders yesterday on the importance of the rule of law, and a peaceful 12 of July and complying with the Parade Commission’s determination.”