Northern Ireland

Lord Hay involved in Dungiven parade talks

Lord Hay
Image caption Lord Hay was approached to see if he could help ease tension in Dungiven

The BBC has learned that the former Assembly Speaker Lord Hay was involved in talks that resulted in a contentious Orange parade going ahead in Dungiven without protests from residents.

In recent years, the annual church parade in the mainly nationalist town has been the focus of opposition from local people.

However, last Sunday, it passed off without any protest.

The DUP peer was approached to see if he could help ease tension in the town.

The BBC programme, The View, has been told that two prominent mediators from Londonderry were involved in discussions and Lord Hay also had a series of talks with local people that resulted in planned protests being called off.

While the Orange Order was not directly involved in the talks, contacts were made with individuals close to the Order.

'Guarantees'

Last year, residents protested because they felt the parade was being used to provoke local people and they had concerns about its size and who took part.

The protestors said that once they were given some guarantees this year they called off their opposition.

Rory Donaghy from the Dungiven Concerned Residents Association told the BBC: "We received assurances and stuff and we were happy with that and that allowed us to pull back from the protest we had planned especially.

"I don't want to go too deep into detail because a lot of this is confidential yet, but basically it is to do with people from outside the town coming in."

Last Sunday, the parade went ahead with around 70 members in attendance.

The parade to the local Church of Ireland church took place without music or banners and there were no protestors.

One of those who took part in the annual parade was the former Ulster Unionist MP, Willie Ross, who is now in the Traditional Unionist Voice.

He told the BBC that no one from his lodge was involved in talks and he said discussions are not needed.

He said: "I take the view that talks are not necessary.

"I think it is a matter that should be dealt with by a bit of common sense.

"People are going to church and that is all there is to it.

"What difference does it make? We go up the street to go to church.

Image caption Sinn Féin Councillor Sean McGlinchey has welcomed the decision to bring in mediators

"We come home from church and the nationalist population do have parades in Dungiven and they don't cause us one bit of trouble."

The decision to bring in mediators was welcomed by Sinn Féin councillor Sean McGlinchey.

He said: "I think to be fair this year sets a good example that mediation can help. It is the first year that we have brought outside mediation in rather than face to face talks."

The BBC understands that a number of residents still have some concerns about the parade and it is clear that behind the scenes talks will continue

It is a position the Parades Commission is keen to support.

In a statement to The View, a spokesperson said: "The commission is aware of the sensitivities surrounding this annual parade in Dungiven.

"It understands the significant work undertaken by local communities to manage tensions and maintain a peaceful parading environment.

"The commission continues to encourage dialogue and engagement by all parties."

The Orange Order said it would support local lodges and insist that local solutions are appropriate.

Dialogue

However, Mervyn Gibson, who is Assistant Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland said those involved in dialogue must show genuine intentions.

He said: "I think at a local level you need two people to take part in a conversation.

"Sadly our experience has been a dialogue where one person has said that is not happening and there has been no conversation and then we are accused of a lack of engagement."

Asked whether things were changing he said: "I don't know, let us see. Let us hope so. Maybe Dungiven will point the way forward on how our parades are viewed."

To some observers, last Sunday in Dungiven represents a breakthrough, others may think the events of the weekend provide little insight.

Either way, it was still only one parade in a summer that has many more to come.

You can see The View on BBC One Northern Ireland at 22.35 BST.

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