Monday 23 October 2017

Parades Commission 'could be reappointed' amid deadlock

The Parades Commission in the North will be reappointed in January if local politicians fail to reach agreement on controversial marches, the Northern Ireland Secretary said today.

A power vacuum forcing police to decide the route of some parades would be unacceptable, Owen Paterson told a committee of MPs.

This July, dozens of police officers were injured in pitched battles with nationalist rioters at Ardoyne in north Belfast following a contentious Loyal Order parade through the area.

This summer the Orange Order rejected draft parades legislation and refused to take part in a consultation process.

But Mr Paterson warned the clock was ticking for local politicians to make up their minds.

"If they don`t we will have to set in train actions which will reappoint a Parades Commission by January next year," he said.

The draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill has already been consulted on and is due to go through the Assembly in the North this autumn.

It was drawn up following the report of the working group on parades set up following agreement on the devolution of policing and justice at Hillsborough.

Mr Paterson said he regretted the violence in Ardoyne which left 80 police injured in battles with suspected dissident republicans. One policewoman had a piece of masonry dropped on her head.

But the Northern Ireland Secretary added: "Most parades went off peacefully. Those organising must remember that there is this tiny (violent) number. Is it really worth it for those small number of parades to have that whole image of parading distorted on world television?

"I think the Parades Commission has done a good job, it took away the difficulty of embroiling the police in difficult decisions on routing, they have resolved the vast majority of contentious parades.

"It is absolutely not an option to leave a hole."

Upper Bann Democratic Unionist MP David Simpson said he was concerned by the prospect of a reconstituted commission and said it had been a "fundamental disaster".

Mr Paterson told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee he recognised the vital role of the security forces, but said a solution must be found which brings members of the community together at deprived interface flashpoints.

"We have to recognise that there are long-term social problems in these areas. We cannot just solve this by politicians and by armed policemen, by the security forces," he said.

"There are measures we can take to pick up some of these misguided young people."

He said this involves creating a shared future, which the Northern Ireland ministerial executive is already working on.

The Government has spent around £300m (€360m) on four public inquiries.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry reported in June with Prime Minister David Cameron apologising for the killing by soldiers of 14 civil rights protesters in Derry.

Three other inquiries are due to report soon:

The Robert Hamill Inquiry, which is investigating how a Catholic was beaten to death by a loyalist mob while police were present, should report around Christmas;

the Nelson Inquiry into the loyalist killing of Catholic solicitor Rosemary Nelson in Lurgan, Co Armagh, will be published in the new year;

and the Wright Inquiry into the death of Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright in prison will report on Tuesday.

Mr Paterson said there could be no more open-ended expensive inquiries but added there was a lack of consensus on alternatives for dealing with the past.

He said it will be the new year before Government proposals are crystallised.

He said the police's £34m (€41m) Historical Enquiries Team (HET), which is investigating more than 3,000 unresolved conflict murders, had done a good job.

"Perhaps we can build on some of the things that are working very well at the minute but we are in listening mode, we are not imposing," he said.

Relatives of the 29 people killed in Omagh in 1998 by a Real IRA blast have campaigned for a public inquiry.

But Mr Paterson said: "My gut feeling on Omagh is that it has been through a lengthy judicial process ... I am just not sure what is new to bring out. Some of these events we will never get to the bottom of.

"That is absolutely dreadful for the people involved."

He reiterated that he had not held talks with dissident republicans responsible for a string of recent attacks including a blast in Lurgan which injured three children on August 14.

Press Association

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