Assembly passes motion criticising Parades Commission

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The Assembly narrowly backed a DUP motion criticising the Parades Commission's decision to restrict an Orange parade in Belfast, on 16 July 2013.

The resolution was carried by a single vote.

Opening the debate, the first minister challenged the Orange Order to get involved in attempts to find an alternative to the commission.

Peter Robinson was among a number of MLAs calling for interested parties to engage with an all-party group under the chairmanship of former US special envoy, Richard Haass.

The Assembly had been recalled from its summer recess for a special debate to discuss the commission's decision to restrict the 12 July Orange parade in Ardoyne, north Belfast.

The parade was followed by serious rioting in the Woodvale area, and other parts of the city.

The DUP motion called for respect for the law and for "tolerance to be shown for everyone's cultural identity".

Mr Robinson said the debate was an opportunity for elected representatives "to try to bring calm to the situation".

He condemned the Parades Commission decision on the Ardoyne parade saying it had been taken for "political reasons" and to suit the commission's own agenda.

The all-party talks chaired by Mr Haass are aimed at making recommendations on parades and protests, flags, symbols and emblems.

Mr Robinson said: "I think it is absolutely vital that we all commit ourselves to make it work".

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said the Orange Order could not dissociate itself from the violence that followed the parade.

"I have to say that it was clearly planned," he said.

Mr Kelly said there was "no republican war on the cultural identity of Britishness or loyalism".

He called for support for the all-party talks.

Alban Maginness of the SDLP defended the Parades Commission determination on the parade, which he said was essentially a good decision.

He said it was unhelpful of the first minister to be so blunt in his criticisms of the commission.

Mr Maginness called for the resumption of talks between the Orange Order and Ardoyne residents.

The North Belfast member said "there was goodwill there, there was even some good humour".

The Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he supported the DUP motion.

He called for "a spirit of generosity one to the other".

Mr Nesbitt referred to the placing of a statue of the Virgin Mary on a loyalist bonfire.

"That was not done in my name. I deplore that act," he said.

The DUP's William Humphrey intervened to say that the statue had been thrown into the bonfire "by people from Divis in the Lower Falls", a nationalist part of west Belfast.

Conall McDevitt of the SDLP described Mr Humphreys' comments as "unfetteredly arrogant and abusive and insulting"

Resuming his speech, Mr Nesbitt said there was a fear that although Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom every trace of Britishness would be removed "as part of a long cultural conflict".

Alliance leader David Ford said there had been disgraceful scenes on the streets since 12 July, and he praised the police for their work.

He said his party would support the Sinn Fein motion and noted that it called for mutual respect.

Mr Ford said there were "more buts in an Orange statement than there are in an ashtray outside a pub".

He called for support for the Richard Haass talks.

The DUP's Nelson McCausland said Orange lodges had paraded along the Crumlin Road in north Belfast for 150 years.

He said the Parades Commission had "pandered to republican and nationalist bigotry".

"It seems that republicans in Ardoyne cannot even share a road with us," he said.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said 12 July had been "a tale of two cities".

Contrasting events in Belfast with the Orange parade that had taken place in Londonderry, Mr McGuinness said: "In the city that I come from we had a totally peaceful weekend".

He said there had been no need for Mr Haass to sort it out, "we did it ourselves".

"Belfast can learn from Derry," Mr McGuinness said.

There was applause from the public gallery when the TUV's Jim Allister said Mr McGuinness "was the godfather of an organisation that murdered 300 members of the Orange Order".

Following a further point of order, from Gerry Kelly, Speaker William Hay warned spectators that they "need to be careful in what they say and do in the public gallery".

Shortly after this the fire alarm sounded in the building and the Assembly was suspended for four minutes.

The Sinn Fein amendment was defeated by 44 votes to 41.

The DUP motion was carried by 43 votes to 42.

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