Theresa Villiers: “It is in the interests of everyone affected… that a way forward is found towards a local resolution.”

As the BBC’s Mark Devenport reports, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, has proposed that a panel of “experts” be appointed with the objective of mediating “an agreed accommodation between local people in respect of Loyal Order parades in the Twaddell and Ardoyne areas of north Belfast”.

The official NIO statement includes the terms of reference, key principles, and the proposed structure of the panel and its timescale.

Terms of reference

In order to mediate an agreed accommodation between local people in respect of Loyal Order parades in the Twaddell and Ardoyne areas of north Belfast, a Panel will be established with the following terms of reference:

  • to receive written and oral information from all interested parties involved in parading or protest action in this area
  • to commission research to assess contemporary attitudes to parading or protest action in this area
  • to produce a factual account of historic parading and protest action in this area and a synopsis of previous attempts to resolve the impasse
  • to produce a factual account of the factors that have influenced the local divide (between communities drawn from the two main traditions in Northern Ireland) in this area
  • to engage with stakeholders drawn from both sides of the community divide, to include Loyal Order, political, community, church and business representatives, with the aim of mediating agreement on future Loyal Order parades in this area
  • to report on the terms of any local agreement reached
  • to produce a Chairman’s report reflecting on the Panel’s work with observations that could inform (i) future efforts to reach a local agreement and build mutual respect and understanding between loyal orders and local residents in North Belfast (ii) future determinations made by the Parades Commission for Northern Ireland and (iii) ongoing discussions on a devolved regulatory framework for parades

Key principles

The decision to establish the panel is underpinned by the following key considerations:

  • the Panel should look at the totality of parading issues in this area on an all-year round basis
  • the Panel’s work shall not affect the ongoing role of the Parades Commission as the authority for determining parades
  • to be successful, the process needs to be able to engage effectively with both sides of the community
  • the process needs to coincide with a resumption of wider inter-party talks
  • the establishment of the process should encourage a scaling back of parades-related protest actions in the area in order to de-escalate local tensions [added emphasis]

Structure of Panel

Who: A panel of experts chaired by a representative from civil society or an academic who can command trust, supported by a secretariat with the requisite skills. Appointments to the panel will be made by the Secretary of State in consultation with the NI Executive. [added emphasis]

Funded by: The Northern Ireland Office

Timescale: The Panel will report by 31January 2015.