Unionists stand together in urging Theresa Villiers to back Belfast Telegraph plan to resolve parade crisis
First Minister Peter Robinson led a delegation of unionists to meet Secretary of State Theresa Villiers yesterday, urging her to take up a solution to a parading impasse suggested by the Belfast Telegraph.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson, Ukip MLA David McNarry, Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson and representatives of the TUV and UPRG stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr Robinson yesterday as he called for an independent commission of inquiry to be established to find a solution to the current stand-off over a return Orange parade in north Belfast.
The inquiry is proposed to be time-bound and would hear evidence, carry out research, talk to people, and initiate and oversee dialogue.
However, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness poured cold water on the suggestion, dismissing it as "nonsense", "lopsided", and accusing unionists of "trying to exclude everyone else".
Loyalists have staged a protest camp at Twaddell Avenue in north Belfast for more than a year after three Ligoniel Orange lodges were banned in 2013 from staging their return parade along the Crumlin Road past Ardoyne shops on July 12.
On July 4, Row over benighted piece of Tarmac needs settled foreversaid the current impasse over the Ardoyne issue was now beyond the Parades Commission, Orange Order, politicians or residents groups, and suggested a commission headed by a UK judge to compel witnesses, to speak to people beyond the self-appointed and self-motivated, to "hear the great unheard", to examine history and other marches, and to report back with recommendations ahead of next year.
Mr McGuinness also met Ms Villiers yesterday. Speaking afterwards, he called on all the parties to come back to the negotiating table.
"The type of inquiry that is being proposed by the unionists is a nonsense," he said.
"The situation at Ardoyne isn't going to be resolved by them cobbling together an agreement for an inquiry with Theresa Villiers to the exclusion of everybody else.
"That's not the way this process has moved forward successfully over the course of the last 20 years.
"So it's very clear what needs to happen, there needs to be a process that everybody can sign up to."
Mr Robinson dismissed Mr McGuinness's critique, saying the proposed commission would hear from everyone.
He described it as a "commonsense proposal".
"The way we envisaged the commission of inquiry operating, we have made it very clear that the proposal is one that is intended to be helpful to the process, one that will allow a focus on a particular area where there has been for many years a problem in terms of the acceptance of a parade," he said.
"Let no one say that this is a one-sided approach, it is not a unionist answer to the problem.
"It is recognising that to have a resolution, we need the participation of everyone. No one should be afraid to talk.
"We are quite happy to sit down and talk with the commissioner in the inquiry on a proper basis as we have with many people over the last number of years over Ligoniel.
"It does require some leadership from the nationalist and republican community.
"If they genuinely do want to resolve this issue at Ligoniel, this is a way of doing it. It does no violence to any other process.
"It doesn't relate to the leader talks, nor does it impinge on the work of the Parades Commission."
Mr Nesbitt said the delegation expected a decision on the proposal from Ms Villiers before the end of the year.
"It is an idea that first came into the public domain from the media," he said.