Unionists have given a hostile response to fresh proposals from the Secretary of State to resolve parades tensions in north Belfast.
In 2013, the Parades Commission stopped the Order from completing the return leg of its annual July 12 parade past Ardoyne; there has been a protest camp at nearby Twaddell Avenue since.
In a speech at Queen’s University on Friday Theresa Villiers unveiled a fresh “series of meetings and consultations with interested parties” to resolve the issue, an apparent response to last month’s challenge from the Orange Order. It said it was her responsibility to come up with an alternative after her U-turn in December on promises to unionists of a panel of inquiry.
However, unionists were clearly not impressed by this latest intervention from Ms Villiers.
North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds responded by pointing out “the denial of human rights to the Brethren at Twaddell”.
He added: “Before Christmas, Theresa Villiers ham-fistedly binned the north Belfast parades panel. Had that panel been appointed we might have been a great deal further forward than searching around for some kind of new initiative now.”
The MP said that the “fundamental problem is the total lack of republican respect given for a five-minute walk along a main arterial route for people of a different faith”.
TUV leader Jim Allister said the new process “will do nothing to get us to a point where the fundamental right of Orangemen in north Belfast to complete their parade is recognised”. He said Ms Villiers’ speech was a “worthless announcement and it moves us no further forward”.
Ukip’s Northern Ireland leader David McNarry said that under Ms Villiers’ occupancy of the NIO. “unionist culture and heritage has been shunned”.
“How can any unionist do business with this Secretary of State or trust her in any dealings? She will be well gone after the May elections,” he said.
Orange Order chaplain, Rev Mervyn Gibson, asked, if the issue was so important, “why is she leaving it until only four or five months before the July parades?”
The UPRG and PUP agreed that unless “violent threats” against the parade were acknowledged any solutions would be “flawed”.
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said “inclusive dialogue” was key to resolving the parading dispute.