Daily meetings to resolve parades disputes in North

Daily meetings to resolve parades disputes in North

Daily meetings will be held to find a way forward on the North's parading dispute, the British government said today.

A working group of six Assembly members from Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) held its first discussions at Stormont today. It is tied to a tight deadline of later this month.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said a schedule of work had been agreed and the atmosphere was "business-like".

"We have not said that we will sort out the issue of contentious parades in two or three weeks, we will try to put together a structure that will make it easier," he added.

"It has to be sorted out between the residents and the people who march in those areas, making dialogue and resolution easier.

"We are not trying to bring forward some miracle."

Nationalist residents in mainly working-class areas like north Belfast and Portadown, Co Armagh, oppose Orange Order processions past their houses because they see them as triumphalistic.

Members of the loyal orders accuse householders of going out of their way to be offended and maintain it is their traditional right to demonstrate on the streets.

Following last week's Hillsborough Agreement Sinn Féin and the DUP want a new system that will involve a greater emphasis on local accommodation. There were also calls for a better framework for mediation and a new system of adjudication.

The government-appointed Parades Commission has been criticised by unionists for barring Orange demonstrations like that at Drumcree, Portadown, from walking along the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road.

The parades working group has been criticised by the SDLP for not including the other parties and non-political experts.

Mr Kelly, a junior minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, said they planned to involve other "stakeholders" but were reporting to the First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

"The Agreement was hard fought for. We intend to move forward with as much speed as possible because we know this is important," he added.

Today's first meeting lasted around an hour.

Meanwhile, leaders from all five main parties in the Stormont Assembly met today as part of a process of deciding who will be the first Justice Minister.

Alliance Party head David Ford is the favourite but was not nominated today because he wants outstanding issues like developing better community relations dealt with.

He published proposals for a programme for government for policing and justice but said he would not allow himself to be put forward until his party's demands were met.

"We need to see progress on building a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland and we need to see a group conversation for the Department of Justice which would ensure that it delivers for all of the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

He admitted there had been some "frostiness" at today's Stormont meeting but added that Sinn Féin and the DUP were prepared to engage.

"Since last Friday there has been constructive and positive engagement, certainly through yesterday. There remains work to be done but the Alliance Party remains committed to doing that," he added.

His party's proposals said there were considerable inefficiencies and cost pressures within the criminal justice system and work to manage scarce resources more efficiently and effectively must be intensified to ensure a sustainable level of public service.

The SDLP nominated its North Belfast Assembly member, Alban Maginness, a former lawyer, for the post.

Leader Margaret Ritchie said: "There should not be any departure from the democratic principles as enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement."

She said she had agreed to participate in more bilateral meetings with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

She is also holding talks with Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin in Dublin tomorrow.

Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey said little substantive progress had been made today but that was not expected at the first meeting. It was rescheduled from last night as he had a prior commitment.

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