A COOKSTOWN councillor and Mid-Ulster MLA have become embroiled in a war-of-words over the issue of contentious parades in the province.
Ulster Unionist councillor Robert Kelly last week slammed the DUP and Sinn Fein for the problems he said the parties have created and which came to a head in Belfast two weekends ago.
Trouble erupted on August 25th when a loyalist band, the Young Conway Volunteers, defied a Parades Commission ruling which barred them from marching past St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street.
On the same day a number of bands also defied a second Parades Commission ruling by playing music as they marched past the church.
In a statement made last week the UUP representative said the DUP had “jumped on the band wagon” in criticising the Parades Commission, and stated the body existed due to the DUP/SF coalition’s “inability” to deliver.
He also said the DUP was using the parades body as a “scapegoat” and called for more Assembly powers over parades.
But Mid-Ulster Assemblyman Ian McCrea hit back at the Ulster Unionist’s statement and accused the councillor of attempting to “deflect” his own party’s “negotiating failures” onto the DUP.
The MLA said that the Parades Commission was a “by-product” of the Belfast Agreement, negotiated and supported by the UUP, and said instead of attacking the DUP, the Ulster Unionists should be admitting that “they got it wrong”.
In his statement last week councillor Kelly said: “Over the past number of days the Parades Commission has come in for some harsh criticism, and rightly so, but once again we have the DUP jumping on the band wagon in that criticism.”
“But what the DUP think people have forgotten about is that it is the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition, are those that created the problems in the first place.”
“In 2010 the deal struck by the DUP and Sinn Fein promised a framework to deal with parading issues but in September 2010 Peter Robinson had to admit that legislation would not be forthcoming. Yet another coalition failure and the Parades Commission exist because of their inability to deliver,” he said.
“The coalition at Stormont say the Parades Commission are causing damage to an already shaky peace process but the truth of the matter is that responsibility for peace lies with DUP/Sinn Fein. They talk about a shared future but that seems just a pipe dream at present, there is no point throwing the toys out of the pram, when the situation rests firmly at Stormont’s door.
“People have to realise they the DUP can complain all they want in the press, but they are happy to use the Parades Commission as the scapegoat, because they don’t want to be seen as the ones who would have to make unpopular decisions regarding parades.
The crux of this issue is get rid of the Parades Commission and put responsibility where it should be - in the Assembly.
A successful government should make its own decisions, not hide behind an unaccountable quango, this all seems to prove that as long as the current coalition st Stormont exists it will face the same problem every year and DUP/Sinn Fein will go on blaming the Parades Commission for their inadequacies.”
Responding to the Moneymore representatives comments, Mr McCrea said; “I nor my party will take any lectures from Robert Kelly or anyone else from the UUP about the Parades Commission.
“The Parades Commission stands as one of the by-products of the Belfast Agreement which was negotiated and supported by UUP. The DUP has consistently argued for the removal of the Parades Commission and a new beginning to parades here.
“After carrying out lengthy discussions with the Loyal Orders the DUP brought forward proposals which would have brought about a new way of dealing with parades which fulfilled the requests put forward by the Loyal Orders, particularly those from the Orange Institution.
“Those proposals received support from Districts and County Lodges right across Northern Ireland, but did not proceed simply because a small element, particularly from within the UUP, preferred to see the Parades Commission remain,” said Mr McCrea.
“It is understandable that the UUP want to deflect their own negotiating failures onto the DUP but I think it is time to step up and admit they got it wrong.
“It is welcome however that Cllr Kelly is keen to see draft legislation brought forward to the Assembly. Rather than attacking the DUP, he should be making contact with his Party leader and colleagues at Stormont and telling them to step forward and offer their support to a new body instead of the negative approach they have taken to date.”
He concluded: “The Ulster Unionist Party have been virtually silent on the issue of parading throughout this summer. Whilst the UUP circus of in-fighting continues unabated, DUP representatives across the Province have been not only working on the ground with the Loyal Orders to reduce tensions but also to try and find a way forward for the future.’