Northern Secretary calls for fresh initiative to resolve north Belfast parade impasse

Theresa Villiers says it’s time to end repeat of previous failed attempts to settle Twelfth of July standoff


Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers has called for a fresh comprehensive process to try to resolve the annual Twelfth of July frequently violent parading standoff in north Belfast.

Ms Villiers, in a wide-ranging speech on the Christmas Stormont House Agreement at Queen’s University in Belfast on Friday, said it was important to avoid a “groundhog” repeat of previous failed attempts to end the annual parading conflicts.

“We cannot have a situation which year-on-year threatens to undermine stability in Northern Ireland and consumes thousands of pounds of limited police resources every week,” she told the university’s Institute of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice.

Serious violence has flared in recent years at the nationalist-unionist Ardoyne-Twaddell interface in north Belfast as an Orange Order return parade was either allowed or prevented from passing by the Ardoyne shops in north Belfast - although last year proved peaceful when the Orange Order and local loyalists ensured there was no violence when the return parade was barred from passing by the shops.

The initial ban on the return parade on July Twelfth 2013 led to the creation of the loyalist Camp Twaddell which is still in existence at Twaddell Avenue protesting at the Parades Commission decision to ban the parade.

Other recent years when the parade was allowed process past the shops witnessed serious nationalist rioting, some of which was promoted by dissident republicans.

This is the last remaining serious parading issue to be resolved in Northern Ireland, although there are tensions and occasional bouts of violence at other parades during the annual marching season.

Ms Villiers came under fierce criticism from unionists and loyalists when at Christmas she reneged on a commitment to establish a special panel separate from the Parades Commission to try to break the annual logjam over the north Belfast parade.

“I decided that the proposed panel on parading in north Belfast that I had intended to set up no longer had sufficient support - on either side of the community - for it to have a chance of succeeding,” she explained in her Queen’s University speech.

Nonetheless, she said a new initiative was now required to determine if it were possible to end the impasse. “To have any chance of getting off the ground successfully, any new initiative needs to come about through the efforts of a broad range of people, from different backgrounds and different sides of the community,” she said.

Ms Villiers proposed to embark on a series of meetings and consultations with interested parties to seek an inclusive way forward. “I call on the business community, civic society and Northern Ireland’s political leadership to step up to the plate and work together on this with the same determination and vision which has resolved so many intractable problems here in the past,” she said.

“It is in nobody’s interest for this dispute to continue indefinitely.”

“All of us with an interest in building a peaceful, stable, inclusive and prosperous Northern Ireland have a responsibility to do what we can to help resolve the north Belfast question. That is what I propose to do and I urge others to do the same,” added Ms Villiers.