Belfast Telegraph

Parade watchdog’s ‘bungling’ could spark trouble: Order

By Liam Clarke

A top Orangeman has suggested that the beleaguered Parades Commission’s incompetence could lead to trouble if loyalists’ patience snaps.

Last night the parades watchdog said it would not be reviewing its decision to restrict a parade in the Garvaghy Road area of Portadown.

The statement followed a DUP claim that the commission was reviewing the decision and could do another U-turn.

There has been bitter unionist criticism of the commission after it first decided to allow, then restrict, the parade in Portadown.

The row erupted after the commission initially granted permission to Parkmount Arch Committee last Friday for a parade along Victoria Terrace to dedicate an arch.

Route restrictions were then introduced on Wednesday after a meeting with nationalist representatives.

Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd said the delegation put forward legal arguments — although unionists were convinced the commission it just flip-flopped under pressure. Then DUP MP David Simpson said yesterday a second review was in progress after his party presented the commission with a survey of residents in the area affected by the parade.

“We are getting a review, which was our aim and objective,” he said.

This was flatly contradicted by the Parades Commission just hours later. “The decision made by the Commission on June 25, 2014 remains in place,” it said.

Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition spokesman Breandan Mac Cionnaith accused Mr Simpson of trying to “deliberately ratchet up tensions”.

Senior Orangeman Darryl Hewitt, the district master of Portadown, accused the Parades Commission of caving in to the threat of violence.

Mr Hewitt said Portadown District Orangemen supported the parade organisers “100%”.

“Whatever Parkmount Arch Committee decide regarding their next move they have the full backing of my district,” he said.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson described the commission’s decision as “absurd and dangerous” and said the area in question was “categorically shared space”.

The Secretary of State last night offered her full backing to the commission as the attacks on its credibility grew.

Theresa Villiers, who appointed the commissioners, insisted that “their decisions have the full force of law and those who are found to be in breach of them can face prosecution”.

Normally some members are carried over from one Parades Commission to the next to ensure continuity. However, this year Ms Villiers dispensed with all existing members and appointed an entirely new commission.

There have been claims that the commission lacks political and community experience, that it does not explain itself adequately and that it takes a narrow, legalistic, view of issues without reference to the wider political context.

New body has less of grassroots feel to it

This Parades Commission has a more technocratic and less grassroots feel to it than its predecessors.

It is shy of publicity; the last news item on its website records its appointment. Political experience is arguably scarce.

The commissioners include two solicitors (Sarah Havlin and Frances McCartney, who is also a part time judge), a finance and health professional (Colin Kennedy) and a mediator with strong administrative experience (Paul Hutchinson).

Anne Henderson, who chairs the body and gives it direction, is an accountant.

Like the other members, she has a lot of experience on quangos and in public sector appointments.

 She is a non-executive director of the SS Nomadic Trading Company, a not-for-profit entity in Belfast.

A former vice chair of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, she has been on the board of the International Fund for Ireland and is on the audit committee of Queen’s University.

Previous Parades Commissions included people who brought more understanding of the of the parading organisations and residents’ groups.

The last commission, for instance, included the Rev Brian Kennaway, a former Orange Order chaplain and historian for the institution, and Robin Percival, of the Bogside Residents Group.

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