Northern Ireland

Commission's Rena Shepherd 'saddened' by city trouble

Rena Shepherd
Image caption Rena Shepherd said the uncertainty over the future of the parades commission was "unsettling"

The head of the Parades Commission has said she is saddened by the rioting which took place in Ardoyne in north Belfast over the Twelfth of July period but does not feel in any way responsible for it.

In a rare interview, Rena Shepherd also said some of the criticism she and her fellow commissioners face was "unfair and ill-informed".

And she admitted having sleepless nights about some difficult decisions the commission has had to make.

Rena Shepherd, who was born in Israel, became chair of the parades commission in June 2009.

The trouble followed the decision to allow the Orange Order to parade past Ardoyne on 12 July.

Commenting on the trouble, Mrs Shepherd said: "Following on from those awful days and awful nights we have heard from the people of Ardoyne that they don't want their area or their community portrayed across the world in this fashion.

"And to that I would answer I don't want my city portrayed across the world in that fashion".

'Sadness'

"I have made Belfast my home, I'm here of my own volition and I have grandchildren here and I have daughters in law here.

"I had phone calls from Israel, from the States, from Australia, from all around the world expressing that same sadness... because the awful thing about it is that people thought it was over.

"And that's what people tell us, they tell us 'We thought it was finished, we thought it was over'."

But does she feel in way responsible for what happened?

"I can't, neither can my commissioners, take responsibility for people who are intent in causing trouble, on coming out to riot, and being violent.

"And neither can we take responsibility for people who send their children out to carry on in this manner."

Mrs Shepherd said the uncertainty over the future of the parades commission was "unsettling".

Image caption The trouble took place in north Belfast

A draft parades bill is due to come before the Assembly next month.

That may mean the parades commission will disappear by the end of December.

But Mrs Shepherd said she and her commissioners were prepared to carry on if required.

She said the Orange Order's continuing refusal to meet the commission "is disappointing".

But ironically, the Grand Lodge's decision so far to reject the new parades legislation could mean the commission has to remain in place.

So how did she feel about the criticism which often comes the commission's way?

Criticism

"It's when it's criticism for the sake of being criticism and occasionally when it's personalised, that can be very hurtful," she said.

"Sometimes the criticism comes from quarters where people are not very familiar with what we're doing, where people don't know the considerations that we have, where people don't know the intelligence that we have, that we take into consideration.

"I mean it never ceases to amaze me the number of people who still ask us to ban parades, when in actual fact that is totally outside the legislation, totally outside our power."

She was asked if they have ever got anything wrong.

"Wrong is maybe not the right word," said Mrs Shepherd.

"If I told you I don't worry, if I told you I had never lost sleep about decisions that we've made I would be being very untruthful because I care and because nobody can get it right all the time and right in whose eyes and wrong in whose eyes?

"Personally if my conscience is clear and if I know as we always do that I voted according to my conscience and provided that I have made my case, the case that my conscence determines I make and make it very vociferously, I can live with the decisions."