Belfast Telegraph

New members for Parades Commission

Northern Ireland's controversial Parades Commission is looking to recruit five new members.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the new commissioners - who will have to rule on some of the most troublesome parading disputes - would be appointed for three years but could have their term cut short if the Haass talks initiative finds a new adjudication process.

Ms Villiers said: " The Haass talks provide a welcome opportunity to see if a devolved solution can be agreed for the adjudication of contentious parades. I am very supportive of that work and I hope that progress can be made.

"In the meantime, the Parades Commission will continue to be the body responsible for these matters."

The term of the current team, headed by Peter Osborne, is due to expire at the end of the year.

Paying tribute, Ms Villiers said the outgoing commissioners had carried out one of the most important and challenging roles in Northern Ireland.

Unionists, who have been highly critical of the current Parades Commission in recent years, have given the new recruitment process a cautious welcome.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds described the move as an opportunity for change but said root and branch reform of the adjudication body was still needed.

He said: "The current body does not have the confidence of the unionist community, or indeed many others who see it as unfair and irrational. It consistently rewards bad, even violent, behaviour and punishes good behaviour. It is inconsistent and aloof.

"The Northern Ireland Office should remember that the Parades Commission as an institution and the legal framework underpinning it are the fundamental issues. This move in itself will not produce a long-term solution. A root and branch change is needed and we will continue to work towards that. However, this change of personnel as a first step is welcome."

Ulster Unionist Mark Cosgrove, who sits on the Belfast Parades Forum, described the move as an opportunity for a fresh start.

"The last few years have been a very difficult period for relationships between the main Loyal Order parading traditions, the wider unionist community and the Parades Commission.

"Everyone knows the Commission has a difficult and challenging role to adjudicate through complex competing interests.

"Whilst I believe there are some fundamental problems with the legislation in the Processions Act that the Commission operates under, this is an opportunity for a fresh start."

The Secretary of State is to write to the leaders of the main political parties asking them to encourage suitable candidates to apply.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said progress made by the Commission must be built on.

"They have succeeded in focusing the minds of the loyal orders on the need for dialogue and accommodation and should be commended for doing so," he added.

"While the announcement that the Parades Commission will continue for a further period is to be welcomed, the decision to reduce its composition, particularly in advance of the consideration of the parades issue at the Haass talks, is somewhat pre-emptive.

"The capacity of the Parades Commission to build upon the progress they have made in recent times should be strengthened rather than diminished."

An Orange Order spokesman said the institution and other loyal orders and marching bands would shed no tears at the replacement of the Commission.

"Its end-of-term report will make for abysmal reading, validating its lamentable record of failure as an unaccountable body ill-disposed towards the traditional Protestant parading sector," he added.

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