Parades Decisions Controversy

A spokesman for residents' groups - which oppose parades by loyal orders passing close to their areas - has lashed the latest news on an independent review of the handling of contentious parades.

Gerald Rice, who is best known as a spokesman for the Lower Ormeau Residents Association this morning slammed as "political meddling" a review team, chaired by ex-Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown, which he said would weaken the role of the Parades Commission, a body he praised for their decision-making in the past.

Nationalists have reacted angrily to Lord Ashdown's strategic review team - a body which was appointed a year ago to examine the issue of parading - and has published its interim report this morning.

It recommends a new approach that would see any disputes being referred to the First and Deputy First Minister, who would appoint a three strong panel to adjudicate - which would then mean the end of the Parades Commission.

Unionists on the other hand have broadly welcomed the initiative - led by Paddy Ashdown, a former British Army officer who saw several tours on duty in Northern Ireland in the 1990s - to recommend this new way to deal with contentious parades.

The report underlines how resolving disputes about parades is linked to wider political issues like the devolution of policing and justice.

There are almost 4,000 Orange Order parades in Northern Ireland every year - and while the vast majority are non-contentious - some, like Drumcree, or along the Lower Ormeau Road, are highly controversial and are the subject of rulings by the Parades Commission.

In the meantime, the Parades Commission will continue to have the final say until the new arrangements are put in place.


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