Belfast Telegraph

Revamp of parades body 'may undermine Haass'

By NOEL MCADAM

The Haass talks on flags, parades and the past could be undermined by a Government revamp of the Parades Commission, its been claimed.

Nationalist parties and the Labour opposition attacked Secretary of State Theresa Villiers over the failure to reappoint the current commission – and voiced concern over the decision to shrink the controversial body from seven members to five.

Shadow Secretary of State Vernon Coaker said: "This is a premature action that could easily be interpreted as a lack of confidence in the Haass talks."

SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly said: "By design or default, this decision undermines the institution of the commission, which has very significant implications for the Haass talks."

Unionists, however, who have been demanding the commission should be scrapped, gave the announcement a cautious welcome.

Mrs Villiers praised the "fortitude and commitment" of the present members and said, while the issue continues to be deliberated, the commission would remain the body responsible for parades adjudications.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said the commission had succeeded in focusing the minds of the loyal orders on the need for dialogue, and the announcement it will continue was welcomed. "(But) the decision to reduce its composition, particularly in advance of the consideration of the parades issue at the Haass talks, is somewhat pre-emptive," he said.

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

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "The current body does not have the confidence of the unionist community. It is inconsistent and aloof.

"A root and branch change is needed. However, this change of personnel as a first step is welcome."

Ulster Unionist Mark Cosgrove, who sits on the Belfast Parades Forum, and PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said it was an opportunity for a fresh start.

The Orange Order said itwould "shed no tears at the replacement of the current Parades Commission".

Mrs Villiers is to write to the leaders of the parties asking them to encourage suitable candidates to apply to the new commission. Meanwhile, the Orange Order scrapped plans for a parade in Belfast today following a commission determination.

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