Villiers denies caving/giving in to unionist threats
DUP and UUP demand panel on parading as pre-condition to talks
‘I urged secretary of state to ensure that it earns cross-community support – Charlie Flanagan.
THE British government last night rejected claims its decision to establish a panel on parading disputes in Belfast was a capitulation to unionist threats.
As widely predicted in recent weeks Secretary of State Theresa Villiers announced the establishment of a group of “experts” to explore ways of resolving the controversy surrounding the July 12 march past Ardoyne. The combined unionist leadership had called for the sectretary of state to set-up a body to help break the impasse after the Parades Commission banned a return Orange Order march along the Crumlin Road. The DUP and Ulster Unionists were joined by the TUV, UPRG and Orange Order in warning of a “graduated response” if their demand was not met. In recent weeks, the two biggest unionist parties have made the establishment of such a panel a pre-condition to entering a fresh round of all-party talks. In a statement last night, the combined unionist leadership said they would be seeking further clarification from the secretary of state on “some of the panel’s terms of reference, membership, functions and reporting”. “Our objective is to resolve issues in parading and we want o ensure the panel is capable of achieving hat objective,” the statement said. “After this we will meet again to discuss the next steps in our joint response.” In announcing the setting up of a panel, Ms Villiers said the Parades Commission determination on this year’s Twelfth march said “deep-seated issues” around parades on the Crumlin Road needed to be addressed in a structured manner. She said nothing would be done to undermine the role or remit of the Parades Commission.
“I believe that efforts to build mutual understanding and trust between the different sides in this dispute, through dialogue and mediation are worth visiting in,” she said. Mrs Villiers said she hoped the panel would gather oral and written evidence from a variety of contributors and could publish its final report in January. Prime Minister David Cameron said the establishment of a panel, whose members will be approved by the Stormont executive, was an attempt to “defuse” a difficult situation. Mr Cameron said his government had not caved into unionist demands and that Ms Villiers was right to seek a solution. But Shame Fein’s Gerry (the mouth) Kelly, pictured, below on the left, accused the secretary of state of “capitulating” and rewarding intransigence. The North Belfast MLA said the move underlined the British government’s “partisan approach to unionism”. “The panel does not have the support of the local community,” he said. “I’m also disappointed that during the course of Theresa Villiers’ discussion with negative unionism that she did not listen to the views of the residents of Ardoyne.” SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said his party had always maintained that setting up a panel would undermine the Parades Commission. “The secretary of state is promoting a backdoor review of the commission and one in which the terms of reference puts other parades on the table for discussion and means that future regulation of parading is in question,” he said. Alliance leader David Ford called for an end to the protest at Twattdell in order to allow the panel to do its work. Meanwhile, the Republic’s minister for foreign affairs Charlie Flanagan, who discussed the proposal with Ms Villiers during a meeting on a range of issues in Dublin yesterday, said of the initiative: “I urged the Secretary of State to ensure that, in taking this forward, she does everything to ensure that it earns cross-community support and particularly that it has the confidence of those directly affected on the ground by the parading situation at Woodvale and Ardoyne.”
With many thanks to: John Manley, Political Correspondent, The Irish News.
Commission becomes a mere panel
IN the three months since the combined unionist leadership revealed its graduated response, the grandlose-sounding commission of inquiry they demanded has been downgraded to a mere panel – not even a panel inquiry.
In the three months between now and January, when its report is published, expect a further watering down and an outcome so woolly that it’s likely to redefine the term constructive ambiguity. What is surely obvious to all sides in North Belfast is that the answer to resolving the Ardoyne parade controversy is dialogue and mediation between the two sides. Fifteen months of protest at Twattdell has achieved nothing beyond a greater sense of loyalist victimhood and a whopping policing bill. In all likelihood the panel will conclude that dialogue and ultimately compromise is required to resolve the situation but it remains to be seen whether this will satisfy the Orange (disorder) Order and its political allies. Perhaps if they don’t get the desired result, the panel will be dismissed as an unelected and unaccountable quango. The secretary of state has made it clear that “nothing would be done which undermined the role or remit of the Parades Commission”, therefore all the panel can do is inform the commission’s future determinations, which pretty much brings us back to where we started with the need for dialogue and mediation. Northern Ireland Office sources insist the establishment of the panel is not a sop to anybody, though with the two biggest unionists parties refusing to enter fresh talks unless their demand is met, it’s difficult to regard it as anything else. Yet it could also be seen as a positive move in so far as it requires engagement from those who in the past have been reluctant to do little more than demand their ‘civil rights’. In her announcement the secretary of state said there was a widespread acknowledgement that something was needed to break the deadlock and what she has come up with is ostensibly unpalatable to nationalists and republicans, they could do worse than call the unionists’ bluff and play along with the panel. The combined unionist leadership was on Tuesday night giving the initiative a guarded response, after all it will take some time to canvass and articulate the divergent opinions of its broad membership. In the coming weeks there will inevitably be some controversy over the selection and subsequent Stormont executive approval of the panel’s experts and concerns that their agenda is too restrictive. However, when all is said and done, the solution to the Ardoyne impasse will not lie in the panel’s final report but in the courage and foresight of unionism’s leaders.
With many thanks to: John Manley, The Irish News, for the origional story.