Belfast Telegraph

Nigel Dodds thrown out of Commons chamber over parades comment

DUP deputy suspended from House of Commons amid mounting unionist anger over decision to ban Orange Order parade past sectarian flash point

Nigel Dodds refused to withdraw his comments about Thersa Villiers and the Parades Commission in the House of Commons. Photo Colm O'Reilly/Pacemaker Press
Nigel Dodds refused to withdraw his comments about Thersa Villiers and the Parades Commission in the House of Commons. Photo Colm O'Reilly/Pacemaker Press
Theresa Villiers said any powers she had to intervene in the Ardoyne parade decision were only triggered by an application from Matt Baggott
Speaker John Bercow told Nigel Dodds to leave the chamber

By Claire Cromie, Lesley-Anne McKeown and David Young

Deputy DUP leader Nigel Dodds has been expelled from the Commons chamber at Westminster.

The MP for North Belfast was ordered to leave after he accused Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers of "deliberate deception" in how she responded to the Parades Commission's banning of the return Twelfth of July parade past Ardoyne.

While Orangemen will march past the Ardoyne shops on the Crumlin Road on Friday morning on their way to the annual Twelfth demonstration, the Parades Commission adjudication body has banned them from taking the same route on their return journey in the afternoon.

The interface area has been the scene of serious rioting on the Twelfth in recent years.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow repeatedly asked Mr Dodds to withdraw his "disorderly" words. But when the Democratic Unionist refused, he was ordered to leave the chamber.

Mr Dodds told the House: "I raised an issue about what the Secretary of State would be doing as a result of the outrageous and scandalous decision of the Parades Commission last night in Northern Ireland, which is causing enormous pain and tensions to be rising in North Belfast and across the province and has potential for severe trouble on our streets.

"And in replying to my question the Secretary of State did not address the point of her powers on an application by the Chief Constable and I have to say in my view that was deliberately deceptive and I think that that was absolutely outrageous and will not go down well in terms of the people back home.

"The Secretary of State has a responsibility to do something about the outrageous decisions of the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland and unless she acts there will be difficulty ahead."

When asked to withdraw his words, Mr Dodds said he would judge what Theresa Villiers had to say about them first.

Mr Bercow said: "I cannot have a conditional withdrawal on the matter."

Nigel Dodds again accused Ms Villiers of "glossing over" the issue of her powers to intervene in the parades decision.

The Speaker replied: "It is not appropriate to accuse any member of this House of seeking deliberately to deceive or mislead. Please withdraw the words now."

Mr Dodds refused: " I stand over what I said and I have to say that the people of Northern Ireland are in a very serious position indeed and the Secretary of State needs to do something to intervene in this matter and she needs to do it quickly."

He was then ordered to withdraw from the House of Commons for the day.

Theresa Villiers then told the Commons: "Any powers I have to intervene and review the decision of the Parades Commission are only triggered as a result of an application by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

"I have not received such an application. If I did I would of course consider the exercise of my powers with the greatest care."

Return parade banned

The row erupted after the Parades Commission banned Orangemen from walking along a stretch of the Crumlin Road - in the nationalist Ardoyne area - on Friday.

Restrictions imposed by the Parades Commission, which was set up to rule on potentially troublesome parades and associated protests, included a one-hour time limit and that it did not reach the Crumlin Road.

Protesters claim the annual Orange Order procession causes major inconvenience with residents hemmed into their area while police facilitate the bands and lodges.

However, the hard line collective has been widely blamed for orchestrating violence which has seen police battered with bricks, bottles and petrol bombs during violent clashes. Shots were also fired and a pipe bomb hurled at police lines in Ardoyne last year.

For the first time, the Parades Commission has ruled that the Orange Order cannot hold an evening parade past Ardoyne after intensive talks with nationalist residents failed to reach agreement.

The Orange Order has branded the Parades Commission ruling "ludicrous" but urged supporters not to be drawn into violence.

"The Orange Institution does not set out to offend or be provocative," said a statement from the Grand Lodge of Ireland.

"We seek to merely celebrate our civil and religious liberties, which are continuously being trampled on. Even a casual observer can only conclude that the Parades Commission is anti-Protestant in its outlook, set on an unrelenting onslaught against Orangeism and the values we hold dear.

"In spite of obvious provocation, we would call on all not to be drawn into the trap being set by the commission and republicans. While violence may have closed this thoroughfare to a dignified parade; conversely, it will not open the road either.

"Fully supportive of our brethren in Belfast, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland prayerfully looks forward to a peaceful day in our capital city and across Northern Ireland, as the Orange family celebrates the 323rd anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne."

In regard to the Commission's ruling, the Grand Lodge said: "The ludicrous decision by the Parades Commission regarding the long established and legitimate return parade by three Ligoniel Lodges on the Twelfth evening has effectively signed the death warrant of this discredited and unaccountable quango.

"This antiquated and unelected body is clearly not content in merely stifling our proud Protestant culture and heritage; but increasingly by its actions is causing irreparable damage to community relations and a so-called shared future in north Belfast.

"Such reckless behaviour takes place despite recent genuine and sincere efforts by the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast to defuse tensions concerning Loyal Order parades in this part of the city."

Decision 'must be respected'

In Northern Ireland questions in the Commons earlier, Ms Villiers said the decision must be respected after Mr Dodds called for the Commission to be scrapped.

In his question, Mr Dodds asked the Northern Ireland Secretary: "You will be aware of the perverse decision that was made last night by the Parades Commission, which rewarded bad behaviour and has punished good behaviour in relation to parading.

"What are you going to do about it?"

Ms Villiers replied: "I believe that it is important for all of us, both in this House and the Northern Ireland political parties, to call on all concerned to work towards a peaceful 12 of July.

"It would be hugely damaging to Northern Ireland if the good news of the G8 were blighted by scenes of rioting on the streets of North Belfast."

Mr Dodds replied: "We want to see that peaceful situation continue, we don't want to see any rioting on our streets.

"Do you accept that the Parades Commission has made the situation immensely worse, has created severe tensions because the republicans who brought machine guns out and attacked the police last year and shot at them, whilst loyalist and unionists behaved impeccably, republicans have been rewarded throughout, unionists have been punished?

"How on earth do you expect people to react in that situation?"

He added: "Isn't it time for that Parades Commission to go and to be replaced by something more sensible?"

Ms Villiers, however, insisted their decision was final.

She said: "Well, I know that the member for North Belfast has strong views on these matters and the fact that these events relate directly to his constituency give him an important say on this.

"I recognise the anger in parts of the loyalist community in this decision, but it is vital that people recognise the Parades Commission is a lawfully constituted authority; respect for the rule of law is crucial."

She added: "It would be immensely damaging to Northern Ireland if we had a violent 12 of July. So whatever people think of the Parades Commission determination, I hope they will listen to the statement made by all five party leaders yesterday on the importance of the rule of law, and a peaceful 12 of July and complying with the Parade Commission's determination."

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