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Monday 22 January 2018

Temporary parades ban ‘unworkable’ in Northern Ireland

Brian Hutton

A TEMPORARY ban on all contentious parades in Northern Ireland would be unworkable, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said.

In the wake of calls for a blanket moratorium on demonstrations until Christmas, Ms Villiers said it would be too difficult to put in place.

Business leaders, the Police Federation and some politicians have backed demands for a six-month stay on parades to allow ex-White House envoy Richard Haass to complete his talks.

"I can understand their frustration at the disruption parades and protests can cause," Ms Villiers said.

"They can have a significantly negative impact on the economy, but I think the idea of a voluntary moratorium just isn't deliverable."

Speaking after a meeting with Tanaiste (Irish deputy prime minister) Eamon Gilmore, Ms Villiers said one of the problems of a blanket ban would be in punishing those who take part in lawful and peaceful events.

"It would be difficult to ask every single person who is involved in any kind of a parade or protest in Belfast to bring it to a halt pending the outcome of the Haass discussions," she said.

"But for everyone who is involved in such a parade, they should certainly reflect on whether it is an appropriate time to go ahead with it."

Ms Villiers said if people are involving themselves in demonstrations, they must respect the rule of law and the determination of the Parades Commission.

On Saturday, more than 3,000 loyalists brought Belfast city centre to a standstill in defiance of a Parades Commission ruling.

Ms Villiers was in central Dublin for discussions with Mr Gilmore about Northern Ireland, including the recently-opened Haass negotiations to resolve outstanding differences on parades, flags and the past.

The secretary of state said it was a very smart move and a real step forward to invite the US diplomat to chair the talks, but she warned politicians they had to row in behind the process.

"There won't be a solution unless there is the will to deliver one from Northern Ireland's political leadership," she said.

Mr Gilmore, also Dublin's Foreign Affairs minister, urged caution about hopes that Mr Haass alone could deliver a resolution to all of the the problems still facing the peace process.

"I think is a very positive thing that he is involved, and I think it was a very wise choice," he said.

"It's also important to recognise that he can't work miracles on his own.

"This is a process that is going to have to have the full engagement of political parties in Northern Ireland, and I hope and expect the support of wider civic society in Northern Ireland."

Both Mr Gilmore and Ms Villiers, who have not met face-to-face since street disturbances in Belfast over the summer, said they remained in constant contact about Northern Ireland.

They said they remained determined to work closely together to improving the situation.

Mr Gilmore is expected to meet with Mr Haass in New York on Wednesday.

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