Northern Ireland

Peter Robinson says Theresa Villiers 'broke word' over parades panel

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMr Robinson made the comments in an interview for the BBC

Northern Ireland's first minister has accused the secretary of state of "breaking her word" over parading.

Last month, Theresa Villiers said the government would not be setting up a panel to examine a parades dispute in north Belfast.

She said there was a lack of support from some people closely involved in the dispute.

Peter Robinson said parading-related issues in the Stormont House Agreement were turned inside out by Ms Villiers.

He said he wanted to have a conversation with her about them.

The first minister said the DUP was not consulted before Ms Villiers' decision about the north Belfast parades panel was made public.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office said: "The government remains fully committed to seeking a resolution to the issue of parading in north Belfast.

"It became apparent that there was insufficient support for the proposed panel among some of those most closely involved in the dispute. This was reflected, to varying degrees, on both sides of the community.

"The secretary of state therefore decided, on balance, not to go ahead with setting up the proposed panel."

'Good agreement'

Speaking on Monday afternoon, Mr Robinson said there was a lot of work to be done on the Stormont House Agreement but he remained comfortable with the outcome of the negotiations.

He said the deal was a good agreement for Northern Ireland, intended to make the Stormont institutions work better and have more financial stability.

On welfare reform, Mr Robinson said the "GB plus system" adopted during the talks was always more realistic than the far more expensive option of Northern Ireland setting up its own system.

The first minister was also asked about the election of Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin as new Stormont Speaker to replace Willie Hay.

Mr Robinson said he was not sure of the exact timing, but he had previously made it clear that the election of a new Speaker was linked to the issue of welfare reform and he was pleased that matter has now been resolved so expeditiously.

Earlier, in an interview for the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, the first minister said he wanted to meet the Orange Order to discuss the north Belfast situation.

"I had no idea that it was being brought to an end, the secretary of state was not going ahead with it," he said.

Image caption Theresa Villiers has come under fire from the first minister

"I would have thought that, as someone who had spoken to her on a number of occasions in relation to the parades panel, that she would have come back to us to tell us what her decision was before she would have gone public."

A panel was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in October to look at ways of resolving the deadlock over a contentious Orange Order march along part of the Crumlin Road.

The dispute centres on applications by Ligoniel Orange Lodge to march along a stretch of the road that separates nationalist and unionist communities.

For the past two summers, they have been refused permission to hold the return leg of their annual 12 July parade along the route.

In July last year, unionist leaders demanded an inquiry after the Parades Commission banned the return leg for the second year in a row.

More on this story