Parades plan gets the go-ahead
Proposals for letting Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness take over the role of the Parades Commission were jointly endorsed today by an Orangeman who once served in RUC Special Branch and a senior republican alleged to have been on the IRA's Army Council.
Plans unveiled by Lord Paddy Ashdown's Review of Strategic Parading suggest the First Ministers' Office — which Mr Robinson will occupy in a matter of weeks — should play a crucial role in resolving disputed parades.
Lord Ashdown said the proposals unveiled in a 64-page report are a " homegrown solution" — coming with the unanimous endorsement of his review group, including Orange chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson and republican Sean 'Spike' Murray.
The interim report sets out proposals that could see the Parades Commission scrapped in a year — although the plan is likely to become a key bargaining chip in negotiations to devolve control of policing to Stormont.
However, two key issues — resolutions to Drumcree and the Ormeau Road, and how to define paramilitary associations by bands — have not been agreed.
Lord Ashdown stressed that the proposals published today are a platform for discussion, rather than a final blueprint. A final report will be issued in October.
But he said it was a "remarkable achievement" that his group had already achieved a consensus on many issues.
"Our proposal is not that Northern Ireland should stay where it is," he said.
He said it is "a matter of political will" how soon the proposals could be in effect.
"But it can and should, in our view, be in operation by Spring of next year," he said.
The report says the proposed changes — the biggest overhaul to parading issues in 10 years — would be "best achieved" with the devolution of policing and justice powers.
The timing of that transfer has yet to be agreed by the DUP, but the prospect of replacing the Parades Commission is likely to be a powerful incentive for them to move.
Under the proposals, local councils would take over some of the administration currently performed by the Parades Commission — including the processing of applications for marches.
If the parades are contentious, mediators appointed by the First Ministers would attempt to negotiate a resolution between marchers and residents.