Orders to hold further talks with the SDLP

LEADERS of the Loyal Orders are to hold further talks with the SDLP as they search for a resolution to the marching problem.

Senior members of the Orange Order, Royal Black Institution and Independent Orange Order met the SDLP at Stormont yesterday.

The eight-man Loyal Orders delegation was led by Robert Saulters, Grand Master of the Orange Order, William Logan, Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution and David McConaghie of the Independent Orange Order.

The SDLP delegation was led by party chief Mark Durkan and his deputy, Alasdair McDonnell.

The discussions were a historic first, and part of a wider talks process aimed at finding a long-term fix to parading issues across the Province.

Afterwards, Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson said both sides hoped to meet again before the end of the month.

He stressed, however, that this meeting and others with political parties, the police, Government and churches were "not aimed at a quick-fix for this summer".

"This was very much a preliminary meeting with the SDLP," he said. "It's important to explain that at this stage we were exploring the possibility of finding a longer-term resolution to all parades and other high-impact events.

"We do not want to get distracted from the longer-term.

"The aim is not to get us over two or three contentious parades this summer; it's to deal with these issues once and for all."

To emphasise his point, Mr Nelson said these latest talks were begun last July 14.

The Orange Order contacted the Black Institution and the Independent Orange Order to see if they would be open to

embarking on a fresh process.

Since then meetings have taken place with the DUP, UUP, Alliance, the Chief Constable, the Secretary of State, the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches and the Church of Ireland and now the SDLP.

The Orders will meet the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on Friday.

Yesterday Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he had sought a meeting but had received no reply.

But while republicans remain off-limits for the Loyal Orders, the SDLP meeting was described as very constructive.

Mr Nelson said: "We wanted to explain to the SDLP our view that the present legislative framework governing parades in Northern Ireland is fundamentally flawed and can be improved upon. We had an honest exchange of views."

Mr Durkan said the Loyal Orders must move towards meeting with both the Parades Commission and host communities in areas where contentious marches take place.

Describing the talks as positive, he said: "It was the first meeting of its type and we want to see other meetings to follow it up.

"The SDLP is quite clear that the Parades Commission and the legislation that established it have served a very good purpose in helping to contain a problem that was getting more and more out of control and convulsing this community every single year.

"We obviously have a very different view on the Parades Commission than the Orders and they are not going to change our view. We do not accept that the problem is the Parades Commission or the parades legislation and our starting point for progress is not that they should be removed.

"We do not want to give people any misunderstanding as to the nature of our dialogue. We are not proposing to replace the Parades Commission in our contact with the Loyal Orders. We cannot give the Loyal Orders any false expectations as to what can be achieved in our dialogue."