Orange Order hardliners blamed for parades decision

Orange Order hardliners blamed for parades decision

A hardline revolt in the Orange Order was tonight blamed for its dramatic decision to reject a new system for overseeing controversial parades in the North.

The move threatened to derail a plan negotiated by the DUP and Sinn Féin at the crunch Hillsborough Castle talks earlier this year.

But sources inside the Order blamed a hardcore opposed to reform and signalled that the organisation's leadership may yet secure support for the package.

The Hillsborough Agreement saw republicans secure a pledge to devolve policing powers to Stormont, while unionists won a commitment to scrap the Parades Commission and replace it with a new system for adjudicating on marches that focused on mediation and local solutions.

In a statement today the Order said: "A special meeting of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland was held in Co Tyrone on July 6, 2010.

"By a majority vote of those present, Grand Lodge decided not to accept the draft parades legislation in its present form as the way forward.

"Grand Lodge officers will meet in the near future to discuss the issue and also the code of conduct which is out for consultation until September."

The DUP team that helped negotiate the plans included prominent Orangemen, but political opponents today claimed the party had failed to secure the backing of some key voices in the Order.

Orange Order sources, however, said that while 300 delegates were entitled to attend the crunch meeting, only 80 arrived to take part in its discussions.

It is further claimed that the meeting was expected to vote on making a submission to the new proposals, but instead it voted on a call to reject the plan.

The parade proposals were voted down by a slender majority of 37 to 32, with others abstaining.

Sinn Féin Assembly member John O'Dowd later said the Order could not be allowed to derail efforts to defuse tensions over parades which, in some flashpoint areas, continue to be associated with the risk of violence.

"What the Orange Order need to do is wake up and realise that they no longer pull the strings," he said.

"The days of the Orange Order dictating policy are over. The days of the Orange State have gone.

"This legislation came about as the result of a political agreement between elected parties. It is now going through the legislative process in the Assembly, including the consultation period. That is how is should be, not decided in the backroom of some Orange Hall.

"The fact that the Orange Order has not even made a submission to the consultation shows the contempt they have for the normal democratic process."

He added: "It seems that at every opportunity the Orange Order deliberately seek to raise tensions around parades."

But Ulster Unionist Assembly member and prominent Orange Order member David McNarry rejected any suggestion that the Order would be persuaded to accept the proposals.

"The Orange Order doesn't mess about," he said. "It may take a while to reach a decision, but once it does there is no way it will change its mind.

"This is a very clear message from the Orange institution and people should respect it.

"The matter will now have to be dealt with."

In a signal to the unionist political divisions on the issue, he added: "There will be a lot of DUP members with very red faces this morning."

The SDLP's Dolores Kelly MLA said the Orange Order's rejection of the proposals had shown that Sinn Féin's hope of dealing with parades was unravelling.

"The whole Hillsborough deal was based on the DUP demanding the Parades Commission's head on a plate at the behest of the Orange Order. Sinn Féin gave in, the Order pocketed its winnings and now, predictably it wants to renege on any replacement body," she said.

She added: "The Parades Commission has by and large done a good job, it can handle contentious parades with beefed-up powers if needed and it should not be sacrificed for political expediency.

"In fact, the Parades Commission may be Sinn Féin's only route out of the mess it has created with its 'ourselves alone plus the DUP' approach."

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