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Orange Order set to give verdict on parades blueprint

Orange Order chiefs meet this weekend to deliver a verdict on changes in dealing with contentious parades — days ahead of the first crunch Assembly vote since the Hillsborough deal.

A blueprint expected to involve the removal of the Parades Commission is expected to be presented to the quarterly meeting of the Grand Orange Lodge.

A recommendation from the Order’s central committee — essentially its steering group — is thought to be positive.

Grand Lodge members, who have voiced “areas of concern”, could overturn it and cast doubt on next Tuesday’s MLAs vote.

The central committee is preparing the groundwork for Saturday’s meeting, which comes three weeks after the Order’s annual special meeting on parading.

Since then Orange grand master Robert Saulters and grand secretary Drew Nelson met DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson, Nigel Dodds and the three DUP members of the working group on parades set up under the terms of the Hillsborough deal — MP Jeffrey Donaldson, Executive Minister Nelson McCausland and MLA Stephen Moutray.

That was followed by a meeting of the institution’s central committee which was briefed by Presbyterian minister Rev Mervyn Gibson, a grand chaplain and, along with Sean ‘Spike’ Murray, an adviser to the DUP/Sinn Fein working group and member of the former Strategic Review Team on Parades headed by former Liberal leader Paddy Ashdown.

The committee, which also includes senior officers at the county level of the Orange Order, then drew up a recommendation which has not yet been made public.

The Order’s initial reaction to Hillsborough was a “positive step forward” but after the Tamnamore meeting Mr Saulters said: “Our membership have several issues of concern about the proposed arrangements that may come from the current parades working group and are in no position to make any judgment or form any opinion at this time.”

Thus the outcome to Saturday’s deliberations could prove crucial to the DUP in deciding whether to press ahead with the expected cross- community vote next Tuesday formally requesting the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont.

SDLP MLAs have criticised the fact that Orange officials were given briefings while the report from the DUP/ Sinn Fein working groups is being kept under wraps.

Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly said: “By refusing to publish their report, Sinn Fein and the DUP are sending a message to the community that they will have to accept whatever political fix they have created on the future of parades across Northern Ireland.”

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