Northern Ireland parades watchdog panel asked to stay for three more years
Members of the Parades Commission have been asked if they will remain in their posts for another three years, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The current commission's tenure is due to end in December. However, with no decision made on the future of the public body, the Northern Ireland Office has asked members if they would be prepared to remain for between one and three additional years.
Although no formal offer has yet been made to the body's members, the news will still cause concern for the Orange Order who have repeatedly demanded that the commission be disbanded. Secretary of State James Brokenshire has just a number of weeks to decide whether to keep the current commission or to begin a replacement process.
A source said: "Members were asked if they would consider staying for up to three more years. As far as I am aware all members said they would. There has not been a firm offer. I think the NIO were just wanting to have a number of options ready for the new Secretary of State."
The source added: "The fact that there has been no formal word would suggest that it hasn't yet been discussed with the Secretary of State."
Relations between the Commission and the Orange Order have continued to deteriorate, despite the 2016 marching season so far passing off without major incident.
Last month the Rev Mervyn Gibson, the Order's grand chaplain, accused the commission of ignoring their views and said the sooner it was disbanded the better.
"The sooner the Parades Commission in its current format goes it will hasten resolutions towards parades. The Parades Commission in its current format has nothing to offer Northern Ireland," he said.
Meanwhile, hopes are high that a resolution to the north Belfast parades dispute is in sight. Loyalist and nationalist residents are close to a deal that would allow the Order to make a return parade - that was banned in 2013- before the end of the year. In return, the Twaddell protest camp set up in north Belfast would be dismantled.
A proposal to settle the dispute collapsed last month when Ballysillan Lodge said it wouldn't back it.