Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Discussions in Wales over marching disputes may be missing two key players

Orange Lodge of Ireland's grand chaplin  Rev Mervyn Gibson
Orange Lodge of Ireland's grand chaplin Rev Mervyn Gibson

Two of the key players in Northern Ireland's marching disputes may not attend a seminar in Wales aimed at easing tensions on the streets this summer.

All the main political parties are attending the two-day seminar in Cardiff next Friday and Saturday.

However, two central players – the Orange Order and the Progressive Unionist Party – may not attend.

Last night Mervyn Gibson, a senior Belfast Orangeman, said he had been invited but couldn't make it.

He added: "The Orange Institution wasn't invited officially.

"(PSNI Assistant Chief Constable) George Hamilton did mention at a meeting that if anyone wanted to come they could, but that is not a formal invitation."

Last night, ACC Hamilton said he didn't yet know if the Order was coming.

He added that the get-together, originally planned for Germany, would involve up to 25 people.

He explained: "The relationships between the police and some communities in Belfast were strained during the end of last year's marching season and flags protest.

"This is an opportunity to engage with people identifying ways of getting a broader base of support for the rule of law. It is not negotiation, it is about establishing the lines of communication. We are making sure that, from senior level to people on the ground, we have something in place that can help if there are heightened tensions this summer."

Those attending include UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, Gerry Kelly and Sean 'Spike' Murray of Sinn Fein, and the SDLP's Conall McDevitt. The event, news of which leaked yesterday, is being facilitated by former Community Relations Council chief Dr Duncan Morrow. It is paid for by the NIO and the PSNI.

The PUP confirmed the party had received an invitation and was considering it.

A party spokesman said: "There is a lot of scepticism about what can be achieved in such a short space of time, but it is better than doing nothing. Therefore, I think the space needs to be given for the initiative to take place."

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