Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland parades: Sinn Féin reject inquiry plan

Gerry Kelly
Image caption Sinn Féin's North Belfast MLA, Gerry Kelly, emerged from his meeting with Ms Villiers saying it would be "wrong to reward an ultimatum" by granting unionists an inquiry

Sinn Féin has told Secretary of State Theresa Villiers that it will not co-operate with any inquiry set up to examine a contentious Belfast parade.

Ms Villiers has held separate talks with Sinn Féin and the SDLP, amid reports she plans to set up a panel of inquiry over the Ardoyne parade.

In July, unionist leaders called on her to set up a commission of inquiry.

However, both Sinn Féin and the SDLP have said such a move would undermine the work of the Parades Commission.

Sinn Féin's North Belfast MLA, Gerry Kelly, emerged from his meeting with Ms Villiers saying it would be "wrong to reward an ultimatum" by granting unionists an inquiry.

'Ready to talk'

Unionists made the call when, for the second year in a row, an Orange Order parade was prevented from returning along a stretch of Belfast's Crumlin Road during its annual 12 July march.

Mr Kelly said the nationalist residents' group CARA (Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents' Association) was ready to talk to the loyal orders at any time to seek a resolution to the Ardoyne parade dispute.

Image caption After meeting Ms Villiers, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said he believed preliminary discussions for all-party talks would get under way within a couple of weeks

Mr Kelly said Sinn Féin was ready for dialogue but said the issue of parading could not be treated in isolation from other contentious issues.

He called for all-party talks involving the British and Irish governments, and said he hope the United States government would add its support to a new talks process.

After meeting Ms Villiers, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said he believed preliminary discussions, preparing the agenda for all-party talks, would get under way within a couple of weeks.

Dr McDonnell said the talks should be short and sharp, using the window of opportunity between now and December.

The SDLP leader said his party would only be satisfied with both the British and Irish governments at the table, convening the talks.

Unionist leaders and senior Orange Order officials announced a number of measures at a news conference in July to explain what they termed a "graduated response" to the Parades Commission ruling in north Belfast.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Unionist leaders and senior Orange Order figures made the inquiry call at a press conference in July

The commission had ruled that the Ligoniel Orange Lodge should not make a return parade along a stretch of the Crumlin Road that separates unionist and nationalist communities on 12 July.

Non-violent protests

As a result, unionist parties pulled out of talks on parades, flags and the past.

It was the second year in a row that such a ruling was made.

Several nights of rioting took place after the same parade was stopped from returning along the road last year, with scores of officers injured.

This year's parade passed off peacefully after unionists and the loyal orders called for non-violent protests.

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