Theresa Villiers parades plan for Ardoyne is thrown lifeline
An initiative aimed at solving the north Belfast parade impasse is not dead in the water, sources have insisted.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers had floated the idea of an independent panel being established to focus on the toxic marching dispute.
Nationalist and republican politicians were scathing of the move. But yesterday some of those involved in this week's discussions said they were confident the idea was still workable.
The Northern Ireland Office and Ms Villiers continue to seriously consider the initiative.
And DUP North Belfast MLA William Humphrey insisted the establishment of a working group to address issues around parading in the area was still viable.
"The proposal is not dead in the water, as some green-tinged stakeholders would suggest," he said. "Our discussions with the Secretary of State have been useful and constructive. Alban Maginness and Gerry Kelly foolishly believe a solution is no Orange feet on the Crumlin Road.
"That is glorified segregation. That is the opposite of a shared future. Nationalists and republicans should lead their communities forward to show tolerance and respect for differing cultures."
Several of those involved in the talks spoke of their shock at the SDLP's approach to the proposals.
Unionists accused the party of trying to "out-green Sinn Fein".
The initiative by Ms Villiers involved discussions around the setting up of a panel to consider issues in the Crumlin Road area. SDLP MLA Alex Attwood told the Belfast Telegraph after Wednesday's meeting with Ms Villiers that she "didn't get beyond first base" during talks with a party delegation.
Sinn Fein also rejected moves to set up a panel of inquiry, claiming it would undermine the Parades Commission. But it was the parading watchdog that first appealed for help with the Crumlin Road dispute.
Last month, in its determination on the Twelfth feeder parade, the commission said the dispute had become too big for it alone to deal with. It was the second year in succession the commission issued a ruling preventing three Ligoniel lodges marching along the Crumlin Road on the return route of the march.
At the time the body said the onus was on the Orange Order to examine a "less strict adherence to tradition in this particularly difficult parading area".
It said it was vital a fresh approach through new structures was taken to the powder-keg July 12 dispute in north Belfast if a resolution was to be achieved.
"The deep-seated issues impacting upon parading on the Crumlin Road are complex issues of culture, the past and identity," it said.
"Based on the evidence of individuals and groups from these areas, it is the view of the commission that these wider issues influencing attitudes to parading need to be addressed by a structured, managed, cohesive approach which provides a framework into which whole communities can contribute, have their voice heard and formulate creative responses."
On the back of the commission's comments, this newspaper suggested a commission – headed by a UK judge who could compel witnesses to attend – which would speak to people beyond the self-appointed and self-motivated, to "hear the great unheard", to examine history and other marches, and to make recommendations ahead of next year's marching season.
STORY SO FAR
The panel proposed by Theresa Villiers would have had no legal standing and it is understood that it would have produced findings as opposed to recommendations. It would have contained people from academic, church and business backgrounds, with its membership suggested by the political parties. She had been expected to announce proposals for the new body this week, but delayed that following a nationalist and republican backlash against her plans. Ms Villiers held two days of talks with the five Executive parties regarding the venture. She also had discussions with the Parades Commission.