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Sinn Fein dismisses north Belfast parade inquiry: Ardoyne march impasse continues

By Liam Clarke

Relations between Sinn Fein and unionists have taken another nosedive after the republican party ruled out proposals for an inquiry into parading in north Belfast.

Unionists and the Orange Order have made an inquiry a condition for general talks on parading, flags and the past.

Earlier this week unionists threatened an escalation of their "graduated response" to the parades impasse unless a commission of inquiry was set up by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers in good time to report by the end of this year.

But Sinn Fein's North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly yesterday dismissed the unionist demand out of hand, narrowing Ms Villiers' room for manoeuvre. "If Theresa Villiers wants to encourage dialogue on parading then the last thing she should do is to reward unionist, loyalist and Orange negativity and intransigence by giving in to their ultimatum for an inquiry into parading in north Belfast," he said.

"The Parades Commission is the legally constituted body tasked with the work of adjudicating on contentious parades.

"Experience shows us that the only effective way to resolve these issues is through a process of meaningful dialogue."

Mr Kelly said Sinn Fein was firmly opposed to the proposal and accused unionists of rejecting dialogue. He argued that "instead the pan-unionist alliance emerged based on a negative and anti-Agreement agenda and on the basis of a one-sided ultimatum which takes no account of nationalist and republican perspectives.

"It would be entirely counter-productive for the British Government to reward this negativity."

Ms Villiers had tested the ground in a series of meetings in recent days. She met residents' groups, loyal orders and political parties, and will be meeting First Minister Peter Robinson soon.

Mr Kelly's remarks follow a joint statement signed by the DUP, UUP, TUV, Ukip, PUP and UPRG.

They said the "nationalist/republican leadership... should not fear attempts to resolve difficult disputes.

"As the political institutions have returned from their summer breaks, we will now take the campaign to each council, the Assembly, Parliament and the European Parliament," it added.

"The political and community campaign will continue until they are able to exercise the basic right of parading to and from their local Orange hall."

At the end of last month Ms Villiers said she intended pursuing the idea of an inquiry.

However, she also said she required "cross-party agreement on reform of the way parading decisions are made" and said the Parades Commission must not be undermined and its authority must not be usurped.

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