Belfast Telegraph

Outspoken Orangeman Mervyn Gibson to be DUP negotiator at Richard Haass talks

By Liam Clarke

An outspoken Orange Order leader will join the DUP delegation at the crunch Haass talks which will deal with controversial parades disputes.

Rev Mervyn Gibson, who said rioting which followed parades this summer was inevitable, and who was highly critical of the Chief Constable, is a surprise choice. He is not a member of any political party.

He has been selected by the DUP because of his expertise on parading, a party source said. The other member of the delegation is Jeffrey Donaldson, the Lagan Valley MP, who is also an Orangeman.

Last night a DUP spokesman refused to say who would be the second delegate, besides Mr Donaldson, but confirmed it need not be a party member.

The selection of Rev Gibson will be seen as an indication that the DUP will not accept any resolution from the Haass process unacceptable to the Orange Order.

The Presbyterian minister and ex-Special Branch officer emerged as a controversial figure during the summer marching season, frequently blaming the Parades Commission for creating a crisis.

The Orange Order chaplain declared Grand Lodge would not consider the Twelfth commemorations to be completed until its marchers were allowed to pass a parading flashpoint at Ardoyne – which the Parades Commission had banned.

He urged furious loyalists to "control that anger and channel it against the Parades Commission".

The subsequent stand-off resulted in days of rioting in north Belfast.

He also described comments last month by Matt Baggott "an utter disgrace" after the Chief Constable contrasted loyalist rioters in Belfast city centre with people socialising nearby as "like a battle between the good and the bad".

Mr Donaldson and Rev Gibson will be accompanied by fellow party member Jonathan Bell, a junior minister. He will represent the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister along with Jennifer McCann, his Sinn Fein opposite number in OFMDFM.

Sean 'Spike' Murray, the chair of Upper Springfield Residents group, which has been critical of Orange marches, and Gerry Kelly will make up the Sinn Fein delegation. Both are former IRA prisoners, as is Ms McCann.

Next Wednesday Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness will meet Mr Haass (below) in New York to begin preparatory work for the talks.

The other Executive parties will have two delegates each at the talks.

The UUP has picked Tom Elliott and Jeff Dudgeon. It is an interesting combination. Mr Elliott is a former party leader and a prominent Orangeman from Fermanagh. Mr Dudgeon is best known as a gay rights activist; he was the person responsible for getting homosexuality legalised in Northern Ireland. The former civil servant has been a party member for some years.

The SDLP is also fielding a heavyweight team – Alex Attwood, the former minister, and Conall McDevitt, who was a PR executive before being co-opted as an MLA in South Belfast.

Alliance is fielding two politicians directly affected by the attacks on the party which accompanied flags protests. They are Chris Lyttle, an East Belfast MLA regarded as a rising star, and Naomi Long, the deputy leader and East Belfast MP.

In July Mr Haass sent the leaders of the Executive parties a five-page letter in which he urged them to pick strong negotiators will full authority to speak for the party. He also put a series of questions and urged them to respect the confidentiality of the process.

On Monday week Mr Haass is expected to lead up a week of "hot house" discussions in Stormont Castle after which there will be a break. During the break his two aides, Dr Meghan O Sullivan and Charles Landow, will continue contacts with the parties and with local interest groups like the Orange Order, smaller parties and residents' groups.

At the next round of talks some of the groups they have talked to may be called as witnesses.

A source said: "Meghan will be more involved on the ground than Richard. They believe that since parades and flags are tangibles they can sort them by mid December. On the past, they may suggest a framework for further talks."

Ms Sullivan is a former US national security adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan who now teaches in Harvard. Mr Landow is a director of the influential Council of Foreign Relations think tank which Dr Haass heads.

He is regarded as an expert in conciliation and documents.

FACTFILE

  •  On September 16 Richard Haass will chair five-party talks on issues such as parading, flags and emblems and dealing with the past
  •  He has until the new year to complete his deliberations
  •  He is a former US diplomat who served here as President George W Bush's Special Envoy between 2001 and 2003
  •  He agreed to take on his new task at the invitation of Stormont's First Ministers

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph