Belfast Telegraph

Parades body still hopeful for calm marching season

By Liam Clarke

The Parades Commission has said that it is not too late for loyalists and those opposed to marches to ensure a peaceful summer.

Chairman Peter Osborne said that a turbulent marching season was not inevitable.

Last week Orange Order grand chaplain Mervyn Gibson suggested that the Order might follow the example of the flag protesters and not notify the authorities of marches.

There was confusion over whether the Commission could make rulings on events such as the flag marches each Saturday.

On Monday the Commission said it could only make rulings on parades it had been notified about.

"The law is very clear. It is an offence to organise or participate in a parade that has not been notified through the appropriate form to the police. In upholding the law, the police have a number of options open to them, including stopping the parade," Mr Osborne said.

Yet, when the Commission was asked what constituted a parade, there was no clear answer. Said a spokesman: "The Commission only concerns itself with notified parades. As to what the events taking place in Belfast city centre on Saturday constitute, that is a matter for others to determine."

Last week Justice Minister David Ford said a review of parades legislation was needed.

Mr Osborne called for calm and engagement with local communities to solve marching disputes.

He added that the commission would "provide time and space" for conversations between the loyal orders and residents to resolve flashpoint marches, such as the one passing Ardoyne shops.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Theresa Villiers categorically denied that there were loopholes in the parading legislation.

The spokeswoman suggested the marches to the city centre may be "public protests that are unrelated to parades". She added that the handling of such protests was a "devolved matter".

She put responsibility for making decisions onto the police.

"There is no requirement in Northern Ireland to give notice of such a protest, but the PSNI is empowered to give directions imposing conditions. If a person knowingly fails to comply with such a condition, that person is committing a criminal offence."

Quotes

"Looking towards summer 2013 the Commission still believes that there is time to shift the focus from confrontation to dialogue and better understanding. People have a choice. Recent events have demonstrated what happens when poor choices are made – there is disruption, disorder and rioting on our streets." - Parades Commission Chairman Peter Osborne

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