Belfast Telegraph

Marching stand-off still major headache for any new parades body

By Brian Rowan

New talks - but no detail yet on timing, shape or agenda. And one of the many issues still to be settled is how any new parades initiative in north Belfast will fit into the bigger frame.

Theresa Villiers has been exploring the possibility of a Panel of Inquiry aimed at finding some way out of the marching mud on the Woodvale/Ardoyne interface.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP oppose such a move – fearing it could undermine the authority of the Parades Commission.

But this initiative is still being developed and is said to have "traction".

The latest terms of reference were given to the Ulster Unionists and the PUP on Friday as part of a wider circulation.

"It's still all ifs and buts," one source inside the combined unionist leadership said. "There's not a thing certain," he added in a reference to both the parades plan and how it might be placed in a wider frame.

"She's (the Secretary of State) trying to create a position to get the two main unionist parties into talks," one source said.

In July, the joint unionist leadership threatened a "graduated response" to the ruling by the Parades Commission not to allow part of the return route of the annual Twelfth march in north Belfast.

And that response has been put on hold waiting for the decision of the Secretary of State.

Senior Orange Order leaders met last Thursday to discuss possible protest action and the Grand Lodge was given a report on Saturday.

"Everybody is waiting for the politicians," a senior Orange source told this newspaper.

The challenge now is how to shape and announce an initiative without buy-in from Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

One source believes the title for any initiative could change from Panel of Inquiry. And concern is being voiced that plans are being diluted to an extent that they won't be supported across the unionist community.

So, the next moves will be watched very closely – not just for the detail on the big issues including welfare reform and the past, but also for the plan that aims to end the marching stand-off in north Belfast.

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