Northern Secretary hoping to activate political talks at Tory conference

Villiers hoping to address issue of disputed north Belfast Orange Order parade

Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers is hoping to use the opening of the Conservative Party conference on Sunday to kick-start comprehensive talks aimed at breaking the logjam that is threatening the Stormont institutions, according to informed sources.

Ms Villiers is hoping to to announce a two-pronged approach to get the North’s political parties back into a process that will also involve the Irish and US governments. She is this week holding individual talks with the leaders of the North’s five main parties to try to gain agreement on comprehensive negotiations and also on a separate arrangement to address the long-running deadlock over the annual return Orange Order parade in north Belfast every Twelfth of July evening.

In July, First Minister Peter Robinson and other Orange, unionist and loyalist leaders called on Ms Villiers to hold a commission of inquiry into the disputed parade and into the wider issue of parading.

Earlier the same month, the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party walked out of fresh talks on parades, flags and the past because of the Parades Commission barring Orangemen from parading past the Ardoyne shops on the Twelfth evening.

They pledged there would be continuing “graduated response” protests against that decision in the absence of a commission of inquiry.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP expressed strong reservations about such a commission, contending it could be viewed as usurping the power of the Parades Commission which adjudicates on disputed parades.

However, it is understood the Northern Secretary is planning to announce a new mediation process separate from the operations of the Parades Commission to tackle the north Belfast parading issue.

Part of the thrust of her talks this week is to determine would Sinn Féin and the SDLP at least “acquiesce” to such an arrangement to allow her to make the talks announcement.

Ms Villiers is hoping that based on the result of separate talks with the party leaders she will have the necessary support or “acquiescence” to allow her to use her conference speech in Birmingham to announce this talks initiative.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times