Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Orange Order’s ‘blue skies thinking’ in bid to end parades impasse

Oranger Order chiefs are to draw up new proposals aimed at |breaking the deadlock over the handling of disputed parades at flashpoints across Northern Ireland, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.

New Grand Master Edward Stevenson said he will ask a 15-strong group to “go away and do some blue skies thinking”.

But any fresh blueprint will have to win the support of Sinn Fein — and Mr Stevenson firmly ruled out the prospect of any meeting with republicans “for the forseeable future”.

Any plans will also first face the hurdle of satisfying the Grand Lodge of Ireland, which threw out a package which would have seen the demise of the order’s bete noire, the Parades Commission, last year.

The two-tier scheme was the result of intense negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein following the deal which saw policing and justice powers devolved to Stormont, preventing the collapse of the Assembly.

The Grand Lodge has just approved a new parades advisory committee, whose members are still being appointed, which has been asked to tackle the parades vacuum, though their ideas will not come in time for this year’s marching season.

“They start with a completely clean sheet, but if they wish they can look at some of the attributes of the proposals last year,” Mr Stevenson said. “I have told them to go away and do some blue skies thinking.

“But there is no timescale set. If you set a deadline in Northern Ireland, it tends to be broken.

“Any proposals will have to be endorsed by Grand Lodge first and we will see if we can run with them. At the end of the day, it will have to be the politicians who will set up something.”

The new Orange Order boss, elected unopposed to take over from Robert Saulters in January, will not change the order’s position of refusing to talk with Sinn Fein or the Parades Commission.

Sinn Fein president, and now TD, Gerry Adams has made several overtures to the order. Mr Stevenson said: “There would need to be some remorse shown from Sinn Fein.”

The committed Christian, who has been an elder in Ardstraw Presbyterian Church for 10 years, went on: “It is not just words that we are looking for, it is actions.”

So far, Mr Stevenson has met with Secretary of State Owen Paterson and Justice Minister David Ford, among others.

Background

Edward Stevenson, who manages an 80-cow dairy herd at Ardstraw, near Newtownstewart, is the first Co Tyrone man to become Orange Grand Master. Outside the institution, his interests are his church and the Boys’ Brigade. Aged 55, he is married to Arlene and they have three sons.

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