Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland parades: Theresa Villiers to meet unionists

Unionist leaders and senior Orange Order figures held a news conference on Thursday Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Unionist leaders and senior Orange Order figures made the inquiry call at a press conference last week

Unionist and Orange Order leaders are set to meet with the secretary of state next week to discuss their call for an inquiry into the issue of parades.

Theresa Villiers is being asked to appoint a commission of inquiry into the issue.

The unionists made the call at a news conference to explain what they termed a "graduated response" to a Parades Commission ruling in north Belfast.

The commission had barred a parade from returning along part of Crumlin Road.

At the news conference last Thursday, First Minister Peter Robinson read from an agreed statement from the combined unionist and Orange Order leadership.

"The combined unionist parties call upon the secretary of state to establish a time-bound commission of inquiry with the necessary legal powers and resources to examine the Crumlin Road parades impasse and the wider issues it represents," he said.

"This is a further part of our graduated response strategy, and follows on from our withdrawal from the leaders talks, ending contact with the so-called Parades Commission and the steps outlined by the Orange Institution.

"In addition, the parties are agreed that at every level - council, assembly, Westminster and Europe - the denial of cultural expression, resulting from republican violence and threats of violence, will have a consequence determining how our members at each of these levels of government will participate."

In response, Ms Villiers said the government would "look carefully at the proposal".

"We have always made clear our willingness to consider all practical options to resolve the situation in north Belfast," she said.

'Grasp the nettle'

Meanwhile, residents groups in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast have called on the Orange Order to engage in talks about future marches on the Crumlin Road.

Joe Marley from Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA) said: "I think the Orange [Order] need to re-engage with local residents. I think we need to change the attitudes going into talks.

"I think what happened at the weekend was a positive move and I think we need to build on that, grasp the nettle with both hands."

Dee Fennell, from the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC), said they would always be opposed to a return parade along the Crumlin Road by Ligoniel Orange lodges.

"I think it's totally impossible. I don't think you're ever going to see another evening parade through this community," spokesman Dee Fennell said.

Image caption Dee Fennell said he did not think there would ever be another evening Orange Order parade on the Crumlin Road

"What we need to do now is deal with the morning parades, they're unwanted and they're sectarian parades. What we all need to do is sit down and make the alternative route viable - it's a win-win for everyone and it's the only viable solution to this problem."

In response, Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson said there was no alternative route.

"I know the area very well and I can assure you that route does not exist," he said.

Protesters at a loyalist camp at Twaddell Avenue in the area, which was set up after the parade was barred from its return route last year, have rejected reports that the camp will close later this week.

They said they are determined to stay as long as it takes for the parade to return along the Crumlin Road.

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