Parades Commission blasted over Garvaghy Road U-turn
The beleaguered Parades Commission has been lambasted for a humiliating U-turn on a contentious loyalist march.
Having originally given the parade in the Garvaghy Road area the go-ahead, the watchdog yesterday re-issued its determination, citing "fresh information".
The move has heaped further pressure on the body which has been accused of wobbling under intense strain over the ongoing stand-off over a Twelfth parade in north Belfast.
The five-panel commission, chaired by Anne Henderson, was appointed last December, and replaced its predecessor which was roundly criticised by both unionists and nationalists.
And the new body was on the receiving end of unionist fury yesterday when it changed the route of this Saturday's parade.
Unionists said it did so as a result of pressure from nationalist residents who claimed the original route included the Garvaghy Road in Portadown.
Orange Order parades have been banned from the road since 1998, in the wake of the Drumcree dispute.
Nobody was available for interview from the Parades Commission last night.
The body was accused of having "caved in at the first sign of opposition" after complaints by the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition to this weekend's demonstration.
The organisers of the march, Parkmount Arch Committee, insisted the parade along Victoria Terrace was not inclusive of the Garvaghy Road.
"Experience with this commission to date has been one of weakness and inconsistency. They appear to have no desire to actually move forward but simply to repeat, or even worsen, failures of the past," Upper Bann DUP MP David Simpson said.
"This parade in Portadown should be allowed to pass unhindered. It is bizarre and deeply disappointing that the Parades Commission appear content to create a new problem in Portadown where none has previously occurred."
Mr Simpson said it was vital members of the commission explained publicly why they changed their minds and vowed to challenge them today.
"This is one of the flaws with this current body in that there is no transparency or explanation as to how decisions are reached," he added.
Around 200 people are expected to take part in this Saturday's restricted parade.
They include two bands, Portadown True Blues Flute Band and Hillhaven Flute Band. In a statement, a spokesman for the Parades Commission said: "Following a review of its determination for this Saturday's proposed parade by the Parkmount Arch Committee in Portadown, the commission has amended its original determination.
"This follows the receipt of fresh information, including representation on behalf of communities living in the immediate vicinity of the parade.
"Having considered this new information, the commission has issued a revised determination which includes a number of restrictions, including a restriction on route, prohibiting the procession from the lower stretch of the Garvaghy Road, past Victoria Terrace.
"These restrictions recognise the unresolved nature of parading in this area and the commission considers that the restrictions are just and proportionate.
"The commission would like to reiterate that this parade does not involve that stretch of the Garvaghy Road which has been subject to restriction since 1998."
Yesterday's decision has heaped yet more pressure on the commission as the first marching season of its tenure continues.
Sources involved in parading discussions said it may have wobbled in recent days with no resolution in sight to the year-long stand-off in north Belfast over the blocking of a Twelfth parade along the Crumlin Road.
There have also been suggestions it may call on the Secretary of State to make the decision over this year's event.
SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly welcomed the reviewed decision by the Parades Commission.
"At last the Parades Commission has come to the right decision because this was nothing more than a cynical attempt by the applicant to up the ante and pull a fast one in advance of the annual Drumcree parade," she said.
"Since the initial determination was issued, there has been increased tension and anxiety within the nationalist community."