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State Papers: UUP’s Jim Rodgers voiced concerns over Presbyterian minister on parades body

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Veteran UUP councillor Jim Rodgers

Veteran UUP councillor Jim Rodgers

Veteran UUP councillor Jim Rodgers

Veteran Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers wrote to the Northern Ireland Secretary in 1996 to voice his concerns over the inclusion of a Presbyterian Minister on the proposed review body that led to the creation of the Parades Commission, according to declassified government files.

The Belfast councillor cited, among other reasons, the fact that the Very Rev Dr John Dunlop had previously supported God Save The Queen no longer being played at Queen's University.

Following the scenes of violence at Drumcree in 1996, the Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew commissioned an independent review into parades in Northern Ireland, chaired by renowned lawyer Dr Peter North. The review body also included Catholic priest Fr Oliver Crilly and the Very Rev Dr Dunlop of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

In May of the same year, Mr Rodgers, who then — and now — sits on Belfast City Council, personally wrote to Mr Mayhew voicing his concern that Rev Dunlop would be on the review body.

"I am deeply concerned at the appointment to this body of the former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, the Very Reverend John Dunlop," Cllr Rodgers' letter reads.

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"Mr Dunlop's views on the Loyalist Orders are well known and therrfore (sic) he is not the type of person who should have been chosen.

"He also support the National Anthem — God Save the Queen — no longer being played at The Queen's University of Belfast.

"Many people in the community believe that Mr Dunlop was deliberately selected by you because of his liberal and ecumenical views.

"Regardless what this body comes up with the people of Northern Ireland will decide where and when marches take place."

NIO official Walter Myles subsequently drafted a response to Cllr Rodgers from the NIO, a memo which states: "I have used some of Dr Dunlop's own words to reply to Councillor Rodgers.”

The response later sent to the UUP representative, signed by a senior NIO official, reads: "In announcing the review the Government was delighted that Dr Dunlop and Father Crilly were able to accept the invitation to sit on the Review Team, bring their knowledge and experience of Northern Ireland's affairs, and their personal qualities, to the very important task of considering a satisfactory solution to the continuing problem of disorder and disenchantment over some parades.

"These Church leaders have the respect and trust of their respective communities and, as Dr Dunlop has made clear, an understanding of the depth and feeling in those communities.

"Having taken account of the evidence they receive, from all interested groups and persons, and within the specific terms of reference, the body will be free to make recommendations.

"No member of the Review Team, including Dr Dunlop, will approach their task encumbered with pre-conceived ideas. All were chosen because of their personal qualities and proven track record.

"The Secretary of State hopes you will take the opportunity to present your views to the Review Team."

Meanwhile, NIO documents from March 1998 reveal that the SDLP's Alex Attwood had concerns about Sinn Fein's approach to the upcoming parades season.

Correspondence between officials discusses a conversation with Mr Attwood, in which he said he would normally have received a number of approaches from people seeking his help resolving potential disputes, but had received none that year.

"He believed the reason for this was republicans were seeking to maintain strict control over their constituency and resist any efforts and mediation," the correspondence reads.

"He thought this to be part of the strategy to capture nationalist votes at the expense of the SDLP."


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