Belfast Telegraph

Cameron or Millband face right to march demand by DUP as price for coalition pact

By Liam Clarke

The DUP will push for a law backing the right to march if there is a hung parliament after the general election, it can be revealed.

The unionist party has promised the Orange Order that it will seek the legislation protecting the right to parade and limiting the right of protesters to intervene.

It will also attempt to achieve new legislation granting protection in law for the official display of the Union flag as part of their shopping list for government.

Any 'right to march' law is likely to be extremely controversial and would be vigorously opposed by nationalists. It is not clear what the view of the Conservative or Labour parties would be to such legislation which could impact on a number of flashpoint parades.

But the DUP has confirmed to this paper that it intends to push for the parading law.

Most pollsters and pundits believe that there will be a hung parliament after May 8 and this has raised hopes that the DUP, which could have nine seats, would be able to bargain with the government in return for their votes.

This is the major part of their election campaign. The 'right to march' law is briefly mentioned in their 'Northern Ireland Plan' which sets out their shopping list to the main UK parties.

The final point of the document states: "From Westminster we want... legislation for a new way forward on parading which respects the fundamental rights of assembly."

A senior Orange source said: "What is intended is a fair legislation on parading which does not reward people for protesting and causing trouble. If nationalists saying 'no' is the decider then some of them will always say it.

"We want a right to parade and pursue our culture in a reasonable way."

The DUP is known to be frustrated with the lack of progress over solving a north Belfast parades dispute over a contentious Orange Order march along part of the Crumlin Road.

A Conservative Party plan to establish a parades panel to examine north Belfast was abandoned by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers after the Stormont House Agreement was signed.

A DUP source told this paper: "Ultimately responsibility for parading still lies with Westminster; it is not devolved so it is the responsibility of the government to kick-start something to solve it.

"She [Villiers] didn't move ahead with the parades panel in north Belfast so the responsibility for this issue, as well as flags, lies ultimately with government. This is something we will pursue."

The right to march will also feature in the DUP's Westminster manifesto which will be published next Tuesday.

Although it is mainly about social and economic issues, it talks of achieving the abolition of the Parades Commission and will say the present situation creates a disincentive for nationalists to negotiate.

Nigel Dodds, the DUP deputy leader, will head negotiations with the bigger parties after the election. He has been prominent in protests against blocked parades. He is also a member of the Westminster Flags and Heraldry Group whose purpose is to "promote the flying of the Union flag and all flags associated with the UK and British territories".

Meanwhile, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt will today rule out "begging" for concessions in exchange for supporting any coalition government.

Mr Nesbitt will say during his party's manifesto launch today that he has good relations with the Conservatives and Labour.

Mr Nesbitt will say: "We will do our best for the people, of Northern Ireland, but our values are not an auction item. We will not take short-term advantage if it means long-term damage to the Union and future generations."

The UUP had no members in the last parliament.

Belfast Telegraph


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