Belfast Telegraph

Orange Order may shun PSNI chief Baggott's talks in Cardiff

By Alan Murray

The Orange Order is expected to boycott Matt Baggott’s talks initiative in Cardiff.

Senior sources in the institution say the initiative is about community tensions and not about parades, and while individuals who are members of the Order may attend, they will not be speaking for it.

The initiative promoted by the University of Ulster and the PSNI is designed to try to resolve tensions between the force and loyalists in particular following rioting in east Belfast and north Belfast in December and January.

The Chief Constable (pictured) said on Friday that he agreed to participate in the initiative following discussions with the university and hoped that it could lead to a more peaceful marching season.

But leading Orangeman Rev Mervyn Gibson said the get-together wasn’t about parades.

“I understand it is about trying to improve relationships on the ground between the PSNI and the communities in different areas, not about parades.

“We saw the difficulties which arose in December and January when community tensions were high. My understanding is that those are the issues on the agenda.

“The Orange Order wasn’t invited and it is not about parades,” he said.

The presence of Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly at the conference would also prove a barrier to any official Orange Order involvement in the talks sources say.

“It’s very unlikely that the Order would send along a delegate to discuss issues when Gerry Kelly would be present, given his belligerent attitude to the Orange Order and the other loyal institutions,” one Orange senior figure said.

The Chief Constable said that the discussions would be about “local relationship-building” and he said protests in Belfast this year and the impact this may have on parades were serious matters for everyone concerned with the future.

“It's something I think we should be doing and an overwhelmingly good thing to do — if we enter into that season and we've done everything we can to improve those relationships and reach some degree of consensus and accommodation.”

He refused to confirm whether or not the Orange Order would be attending the talks.

“I would not have a problem with anybody being there from the orders, from the faith community, from local politicians, community representatives,” Matt Baggott said.

“If we can, by tweaking, reach a place where people have greater consensus and we end up without problems in July that would be fabulous and that is what we are working towards.”

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