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Sinn Fein and DUP fill parades group with own people

By David Gordon

The DUP and Sinn Fein have kept a vital review of parading to themselves, filling a new working group with their own MLAs.

The three DUP choices are all prominent Orangemen, including Culture Minister Nelson McCausland.

Sinn Fein has also opted for a high-profile party team, including junior Minister and former IRA prisoner Gerry Kelly.

The creation of the six-person review panel was one of the key elements of the Hillsborough Castle agreement struck last week by the two parties.

Its members have just two weeks to come up with a workable way forward on reforming the current approach to parades. Failure to agree would jeopardise the planned timetable for the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont.

The new working group has been appointed by First and deputy First Minister Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness. The three DUP MLAs involved are Mr McCausland, ex-junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson and MLA Stephen Moutray.

Joining them on the panel from Sinn Fein are Mr Kelly, fellow Minister Michelle Gildernew and senior MLA John O'Dowd.

Under the terms of last week's agreement, the working group has until February 23 to complete a report on “agreed outcomes”.

It is expected to recommend a replacement of the Parades Commission.

The Hillsborough deal schedules an Assembly vote on a new Justice Minister for March 9, with the new powers following on April 12. That plan could be held up if consensus has not materialised in the parading working group.

The timetabling in last week's deal has already slipped, but only by a few hours.

Party leaders were supposed to meet yesterday to discuss candidates for the Justice Minister's post. The meeting has been put back to today, due to scheduling problems.

The position will be filled under cross-community voting rules at the Assembly. Alliance leader David Ford is the favourite but he said yesterday that his party is not yet ready to make a nomination. It is seeking more progress on the development of a community relations strategy.

Meanwhile, DUP politician Gregory Campbell has made his first public comment on the Hillsborough pact. Mr Campbell is believed to have been part of a 14-strong group who opposed deal proposals at the start of last week.

In his statement, he said his party had a “twin track strategy”, connecting devolution of policing and justice to progress on parades.

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