Villiers: Parades body must not be undermined

THE Parades Commission must not be undermined by any review into contentious marches, the secretary of state has said.

Unionists and Orange Order leaders have urged Theresa Villiers to hold an inquiry to look at issues surrounding the Order's return route in north Belfast, which has been a flashpoint for sectarian confrontation. Sinn Fein has argued that their demands are "lopsided".

Theresa Villiers met the Republic's foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan in Belfast to discuss the issue but said it could be some time before she makes her decision.

"I have not been prescriptive about what the answer is. It would be an important pre-condition that whatever was set up did not undermine the Parades Commission," she said.

"There is a need for something to be done to try and do more to bring people together to build mutual trust and understanding in north Belfast."

This year was the first peaceful Twelfth of July in north Belfast for many years.

The Orange Order and political parties including the DUP and UUP are concerned about the ongoing commission ban on the return leg of a parade on July 12 because of the danger of trouble.

Unionist leaders have said they plan a "graduated response" as part of their campaign surrounding parades and have walked out of talks on marches, the flying of flags from public buildings and dealing with the conflict legacy of thousands of victims and unresolved murders.

This week Oswald Bradley drowned in Bessbrook, south Armagh, trying to remove Irish tricolours from an island and replace them with a union flag.

Fine Gael member Mr Flanagan made his first visit to Belfast as minister yesterday for meetings with leaders of the main Stormont parties, including first minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.

He said: "We do need to take the temperature and feel the pulse of north Belfast and [ensure] that there is widespread consultation with stakeholders before a decision is made.

"It is imperative that all-party talks at the political level be reconvened at the earliest opportunity."


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