Belfast Telegraph

Secretary of State's parade panel refusal a mistake

Editor's Viewpoint

The Secretary of State has taken an unfortunate decision in refusing to set up a panel to examine a controversial north Belfast parade. The panel was announced by the Prime Minister David Cameron in October as a possible way of breaking the impasse over the Orange Order parade which passes Ardoyne shops each Twelfth, but it now seems it was shelved as part of a side deal to get the Stormont House talks over the line.

This newspaper was the first to pick up on a Parades Commission suggestion that an independent body should examine the whole context of that parade. The commission admitted it did not have the resources needed. This newspaper urged the Secretary of State to establish a properly resourced panel that would hear evidence from every side of the dispute.

Crucially, the panel would concentrate on this single parading dispute. It would not undermine the Parades Commission, as Sinn Fein and the SDLP somewhat mischievously tried to argue, since the commission was the genesis of the proposal.

The panel would be able to examine the dispute in unprecedented depth. However, it was accepted there was no guarantee that the members would come up with proposals which would please all - or indeed any - of those most directly involved in the impasse.

But this approach would remove one of the most controversial parades from the general discussions on parading, the past, flags, budgets and Stormont reform.

The Secretary of State says that she has been unable to get unanimous support for the idea of a panel, with opposition to varying degrees coming from both communities in the area. That is refuted by unionists, who say that one loyalist party branch is against the idea.

Theresa Villiers' decision not to proceed with the panel has unfortunate ramifications. It now means this issue continues to fester on with no sign of a resolution. Undoubtedly there will be some bellicose utterings about the matter in the forthcoming election campaign and we will arrive at the marching season again with trepidation in the air.

When we first urged her to set up the panel, we warned that failure to do so would leave us exactly in this position. The controversy has the potential to undermine all other discussions unless it is resolved, or a mechanism established to seek resolution. The Secretary of State should revisit this matter.

Belfast Telegraph


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