Westminster MPs today issued an appeal to Orangemen in a bid to draw them into the decision-making process over parades and avert another summer of civil disturbances in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee proposal was welcomed by William Thompson, a leading Orangeman, who said the difficulties between the Orange Order and Parades Commission would have to be ironed out sooner or later.
The committee recommended that the Loyal Order should set down ways it believed would open up the prospect of direct engagement with the commission, which has been adjudicating on parades since 1998.
The move would be ‘‘a useful first step’’, the committee said in its second report into the workings of the commission.
Mr Thompson, a member of the committee and MP for West Tyrone, said loyalists needed indications that the commission was not intrinsically biased against them and would not back down to the threat of violence from nationalists opposed to parades.
He said: ‘‘This is an issue that has gone on too long. Sooner or later it has to be dealt with - and the sooner the better.’’
Mr Thompson’s words and the committee’s proposal follow signals by the Grand Master of the Orange institution, Robert Saulters, that members of the Order may be prepared to lift their ban on talking to the committee.
The first disputed parade of the year - a march on Belfast’s Nationalist Lower Ormau Road on Easter Monday - has been adjudicated in favour of the Apprentice Boys marchers.
The decision has provoked a furious response from the campaign group opposed to the marches - the Lower Ormau Concerned Community.
The committee also recommended appointing more women and members of the loyalist and nationalist communities on to the commission which is currently seen as too centrist in its make-up.
It also recommended that the commission send official observers to all parades it had made a ruling on ‘‘as a matter of policy’’.