Villiers in call for action to sort out parade dispute

The Woodvale/Ardoyne interface at Twaddell Avenue in Belfast. 'Pictures By: Arthur Allison.
The Woodvale/Ardoyne interface at Twaddell Avenue in Belfast. 'Pictures By: Arthur Allison.

The Government is to launch a new bid to resolve a bitter parading dispute in north Belfast which is the source of intense community tensions every summer.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said she was embarking on a series of meetings and engagements in an effort to find an “inclusive way forward” on the Ardoyne/Twaddell impasse.

She called on the business community, civic society and political leaders to “step up to the plate” and help reach a resolution.

The move comes after Ms Villiers controversially ditched a previous Government proposal to set up a panel of experts to examine the stand-off.

The Parades Commission adjudication body has prevented Orangemen from parading past the nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood at the conclusion of the Twelfth of July demonstrations for the last two years.

While there was no trouble last summer when police halted the parade from proceeding further than Twaddell Avenue in the adjacent unionist Woodvale area, in 2013 loyalists rioted for a number of successive nights after the procession was stopped.

In previous years, republicans engaged in serious disorder in Ardoyne when the Parades Commission permitted the Orangemen to complete their return journey along the Crumlin Road past the area.

Loyalists have manned a protest camp close to the Ardoyne/Twaddell Avenue interface since July 2013.

The total cost of policing the camp is around £15 million.

Ms Villiers announced in December that she had scrapped the panel of experts proposal, claiming it had not received sufficient support from both sides of the community.

While her decision was welcomed by nationalists and republicans it was denounced by unionists and Orangemen.

In a keynote speech to Queen’s University’s Institute of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice in Belfast on Friday, Ms Villiers will insist her decision was not part of any “side deal” emerging from December’s Stormont House political agreement on a range of other Stormont disputes.

“It was not part of any deal or side arrangement between the United Kingdom Government and any of the parties at the talks,” she said.

“There are no such deals.

“My decision was not taken in the face of any threats or ultimatums from anyone; none was made.

“But even though the panel proposal is not viable, I accept that we cannot just go on as we are in north Belfast.

“We cannot have a situation which year-on-year threatens to undermine stability in Northern Ireland and consumes thousands of pounds of limited police resources every week.

“So I continue to believe that we need some kind of process in place that will help to bring the two sides together and take us closer to resolving the impasse - a process which delivers the structured and resourced initiative for which the Parades Commission called in their 2014 determination.

“All of the many people with whom I have discussed this problem have agreed on the need for some kind of initiative, though they were sharply divided as to what form it should take.

“As Secretary of State I accept my responsibility to do what I can to try to find a way forward.

“But it is important to avoid a Groundhog Day repeat of the work which led to the failed panel proposal.

“To have any chance of getting off the ground successfully, any new initiative needs to come about through the efforts of a broad range of people, from different backgrounds and different sides of the community.”

Ms Villiers and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Andrew Murrison would convene the series of meetings.

“And today I call on the business community, civic society and Northern Ireland’s political leadership to step up to the plate and work together on this with the same determination and vision which has resolved so many intractable problems here in the past,” she said.

“It is in nobody’s interest for this dispute to continue indefinitely.

“All of us with an interest in building a peaceful, stable, inclusive and prosperous Northern Ireland have a responsibility to do what we can to help resolve the north Belfast question.

“That is what I propose to do and I urge others to do the same.”