Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

SDLP warns Government not to give into DUP ‘shopping list’

The DUP intends to extract a “heavy price” for agreeing to the transfer of policing and justice powers to Stormont, the SDLP has warned.

In a new document centred on the feared axing of the Parades Commission — a core DUP demand — the nationalist party also argued the Government appears ready to acquiesce to Peter Robinson’s shopping list.

Spokesman Alex Attwood said: “The British Government — and the Secretary of State (Shaun Woodward) is making little secret of this — conveys a sense that whatever it takes to get the DUP over the devolution line will be done.”

That, he argued, could mean “limited or little” outcome from a possible expansion of North-South links; rejection of the proposed Bill of Rights; undoing the work of the Human Rights and Equality Commissions and a wholesale review of the architecture and workings of the Good Friday Agreement.

As reported in the Belfast Telegraph in June, the proposals of a Strategic Review on Parading headed by Lord Ashdown have now been delayed for more than six months amid speculation they will form part of a final detail on the policing and justice hand-over.

Interim suggestions, however, envisaged the Parades Commission being replaced by a system of control over parades by the 11 new councils, which are due to be in place in time for the scheduled local government elections of May 2011.

Earlier this year DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds predicted the the Ashdown exercise “should ensure the demise of the hated Parades Commission”.

But yesterday’s document, Management of Disputed Parades, argued: “The SDLP believes that the Parades Commission (whatever its evident recent flaws and failures) has, in the round and over the years, helped manage parade tensions better and move parading issues.

“Given the evident risk of devolution of justice on DUP terms — and the particular vulnerability of the Parades Commission — the party calls for:

l Sinn Fein to reconsider its enthusiasm for the Ashdown proposals;

l the Irish Government to protect the concept and authority of the Commission, and;

l the marching orders recognise the Commission is a better model than any Ashdown ideas.”

There was no immediate response from the DUP yesterday.

Sinn Fein accused the SDLP of struggling to make itself relevant in the debate and said its latest comments took the focus off the Orange Order.

“When the issue of contentious parades is stripped back to its core it is an issue which like so many within the broader peace process can and will be resolved through dialogue and courageous leadership,” said Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd, whose constituency is home to the Drumcree stand-off.

“Out of thousands of Orange parades only a very small number are contentious. Residents in these areas have genuine concerns and a collective negative experience of the Orange Order and its worst excesses.

“The onus is on the Orange Order to deal with these genuine and deeply felt concerns.

“At present the Orange Order refuses to talk to nationalist residents. They refuse to talk to Sinn Fein.

“In recent times the Parades Commission has rewarded Orange Order intransigence with favourable determinations. This has exacerbated an already difficult situation.”

He added: “The Orange Order leadership have the power to take the heat out of this situation overnight by a declaration that they will no longer seek to march through communities where they are clearly not welcome.”

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