Tension at Stormont as parades panel ends work
Tensions between the North's main parties over contentious parades flared today as an Assembly working group to resolve the thorny issue finalised its work.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds demanded an apology from Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness over forthright comments he made at an IRA commemoration when he told the Orange Order to face up to the fact they could no longer march in nationalist areas where people did not want them.
Mr Dodds rounded on the senior republican as the working group - made up of representatives from their respective parties - met at Stormont to complete the task it was set in the landmark Hillsborough agreement.
The six-strong group, which was asked to formulate new proposals to manage controversial loyal order marches, will present its finding to Mr McGuinness and DUP First Minister Peter Robinson tomorrow.
Its work programme was one of a series of inter-connected processes agreed in the Hillsborough accord that, if completed, should see law and order power devolved to the regional administration on April 12.
Today residents' groups in two areas where parade routes are a matter of long standing dispute - the Lower Ormeau road in Belfast and the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, Co Armagh - published the submission they sent to the working group last week.
But the final stages of the group's work has been played out amid fraying relations between the parties.
The latest spat came after Mr McGuinness's remarks at an event in Strabane, Co Tyrone to mark the deaths of three IRA men.
"The Orange Order has to sit up and take notice that the world is changing all around them, that the north is not an Orange state, recognise that not alone have the old days gone, but the days of the triumphalist Orange marches through areas where they are not wanted have to be consigned to the history books forever," he said.
He also criticised the Orange Order leadership for continuing to refuse to engage with republicans.
"And they should come forward, like men and women, and come into rooms, sit and talk to representatives of the nationalist/republican community in areas where they are seeking to march.
"Thus far, they have refused to do that, but that's what they must do in the course of the coming period."
Mr Dodds reacted angrily to the Sinn Fein MP's speech.
"At a time when people are strenuously working for a resolution to outstanding issues, Mr McGuinness decides to play to his own gallery with a cliche-ridden attack on the Orange Institution," he said.
"That sort of republican propaganda might play well with his hardcore supporters, but it will not instil community confidence throughout Northern Ireland on other important matters.
"Mr McGuinness needs to show some leadership and stop looking over his shoulder at the dissidents (republicans) and the SDLP. SF should focus their efforts on getting a new start to parading.
"It is ironic that Martin McGuinness should have talked about the so-called human rights violations caused by celebrations of Unionist culture at an event dedicated to the commemoration of people who were human rights abusers. Terrorists denied thousands of Ulster people the ultimate human right: the right to life."
The Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition and the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community made a joint submission to the working group last Friday setting out their views on how the parading issue should be handled.
They said they were making the correspondence public because they were concerned that the group's final submission to the First Minister and deputy First Minister would not be disclosed.
"This would be counter to any sense of openness, transparency and fairness regarding this process," Gerard Rice from the Lower Ormeau group and Breanan MacCionnaith from the Garvaghy Road body wrote in a joint letter.
On Saturday, Orange Order leaders expressed concern over some of the potential measures being considered by the working group.
After a three-hour private meeting in Co Tyrone, Grand Master Robert Saulters said members were uneasy about some of the possible changes.
"Our membership have several issues of concern about the proposed arrangements that may come from the current parades working group and are in no position to make any judgment or form any opinion at this time," he said.
The Orange Order initially welcomed the Hillsborough Agreement's promise of a new system for overseeing marches fiercely opposed by nationalist residents' groups.
In a joint statement with the Royal Black Institution earlier this month, the group said it was committed to helping find the best regulatory framework for parades and would examine the deal in detail.
Mr Saulters declined to elaborate on the nature of his organisation's fresh concerns.
It is now thought that the Orange Order will consider the working group's final report tomorrow before further discussing the issues at a Grand Lodge quarterly meeting next month.