Belfast Telegraph

Villiers cuts short mourning to deal with tensions over parades

Secretary of State to consider action after crucial talks

BY LIAM CLARKE

Theresa Villiers has interrupted her leave after her father's death to return to Northern Ireland and address the crisis over the Castlederg parades this weekend.

The Secretary of State is today taking advice from Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable, and David Ford, the Justice Minister, on whether to ban any of the events.

The town will be the scene of both a loyal order parade and a republican commemoration, both accompanied by counter protests.

Ms Villiers (below) had been on compassionate leave to comfort her mother Anne after the death of her father, Major George Edward Villiers, but has cut it short because of the escalating tensions.

If the police advise her they cannot be confident of maintaining order during the parades, she has the power to ban one or more of the events planned for the weekend.

The one which has attracted most contention and publicity is Tyrone Volunteers Day.

It commemorates all republicans in the county who died during the Troubles, but the focus this year is on Gerard McGlynn and Seamus Harvey, IRA members who died when the bomb they were transporting detonated prematurely in August 1973.

That parade has been rerouted but still passes the site of two IRA murders. Loyalists will protest along the route.

The other two events are on Saturday and there are fears that they could raise tensions in advance of Sunday.

The first is an Apprentice Boys Parade in the town, which has been rerouted, and the second is a Sinn Fein counter-demo.

Sinn Fein is incensed that the Apprentice Boys will be allowed to pass through areas of the town centre that the republican commemoration cannot.

Councillor Ruairi McHugh spoke for the party.

He pointed out that this would be the 19th loyal order parade in Castlederg his year.

He went on: "By virtue of its decision the Parades Commission has accepted that the supposed shared space of Castlederg town centre is the sole preserve of the loyal orders and loyalist band parades."

Last week Ms Villiers told the Belfast Telegraph that she had taken advice and had no plans to ban the republican parade, though she believed it should not go ahead.

She explained that her powers could only be exercised in defined circumstances and on police advice.

Now she is consulting the Chief Constable and Justice Minister again to see if the assessment has changed. She will also contact Mike Nesbitt, the Ulster Unionist leader, who has asked her to ban the republican parade.

After that she will issue a statement on how she intends to proceed. It seems unlikely that she will ban any of the events, but she may call on the organisers to exercise restraint or reschedule.

The Tyrone Volunteers Day, for instance, is normally held in a nationalist area, such as Galbally.

Tomorrow Ms Villiers will meet representatives of Derg Valley Victims Voice (DVVV), a group made up of the relatives of about 20 victims of republican violence who have written too her. Yesterday an application by DVVV to the Parades Commission to have further restrictions placed on Tyrone Volunteers Day was rejected.

There are increasing calls for the organisers of Tyrone Volunteers Day to voluntarily to call off the Castlederg march and on other organisations to defuse tension.

Yesterday Michael Gallagher, a spokesman of victims of the 1998 Omagh bombing, said: "I think that Castlederg is a community that is struggling to cope with its recent past and that everybody should do everything possible to try and lower tension and not to bring people out onto the street."

Ms Villiers is expected to echo such calls, whatever decision she takes.

Meanwhile, a DUP delegation has met with the Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton regarding policing of the Castlederg parade.

Commenting after the meeting, Arlene Foster said: "The Terrorism Act 2006 clearly sets out a definition of what constitutes glorifying terrorism.

"In my opinion this event strays very close to being in breach of that legislation.

"I have asked the police to closely observe the actions of the parade.

"I have also informed the police that I plan to continue this conversation with the Director of Public Prosecutions and will be asking for a meeting with him in due course.

"I am glad the police have confirmed that they will have handheld as well as mounted cameras gathering evidence on the day of the parade.

"They have also assured us that any suspected breaches of the law will be fully investigated."

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