Belfast Telegraph

Parades Commission still divides opinion after 20 years

By Rebecca Black

The Parades Commission and the Orange Order, as well as the DUP and Sinn Fein, have clashed over the impact of the statutory body 20 years after it was established.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Parades Commission chief Anne Henderson insisted much had changed over the two decades, saying community relations had improved, there was less tension about parades, and that policing operations were lower key.

But the Order's grand secretary Mervyn Gibson hit back, accusing the body of souring community relations through "many unnecessary and excessive restrictions on parades", which he claimed encouraged no-go areas, damaged community relations and fostered division.

He called for the body to be scrapped and replaced with new legislation.

The DUP also labelled the watchdog as "part of the problem rather than the solution".

Fresh talks between the political parties are due to start later this month.

But the thorny issue of parading is unlikely to be high on the agenda.

At the Hillsborough Castle talks in 2010 the DUP negotiated new arrangements to devolve parading, but draft legislation was withdrawn later that year.

Upper Bann DUP MP David Simpson said: "Northern Ireland is big enough to accommodate those of all beliefs and none - there just needs to be a little bit of respect.

"I have always found the loyal orders to be open to solutions, but once protesters stop a parade the Commission rarely took consideration of the efforts by the loyal orders to find an accommodation.

"The Parades Commission's fundamental flaw has been that it doesn't accept a free society should allow freedom of assembly and procession. Instead, the Commission focused on the parade being the problem but never considered the intolerance which parades were being faced with."

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said the Parades Commission had "greatly reduced" the number of contentious marches.

He added: "In the absence of any agreement or where there is no engagement, an independent body like the Parades Commission is required to adjudicate on such disputes within a human rights framework.

"As such, we fully support the concept of the Parades Commission as an independent adjudication body.

"While we may have reservations about some determinations, we respect and honour all determinations while reserving the right to articulate our concerns.

"The Commission has greatly reduced, in an incremental manner, the number of contentious parades by both facilitating and encouraging direct, meaningful dialogue, and in the absence of agreement, making determinations which have tended to focus minds and create the parameters for potential resolutions.

"A number of reviews have looked at the potential to designate an alternative to the Commission without success."

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