09 April 2006

Parades forum ousts minister over 'NIO talks'

Sunday Life

09 April 2006

THE Presbyterian minister who was ousted as chairman of the Loyalist Commission last week has now been dropped by a group seeking to resolve the contentious parades issue.

Rev Mervyn Gibson was seen as a key figure on the North and West Belfast Parades and Cultural Forum.

But sources within the unionist body, which includes paramilitary representatives, claimed he had no alternative but to step down after refusing to discuss alleged close links with members of the NIO's political affairs office.

"There has been concern for some time about his role on the forum and the discussions he was apparently having with the NIO," said one source.

"It clearly undermined the forum's attempts to secure a consensus on a new way forward on parades.

"While we were in discussions another plan seemed to emerge through the NIO to hand-pick 20 people across Northern Ireland to form a body that would tackle the parades problem. That caused concern, particularly as the forum was kept in the dark."

Mr Gibson, who is minister for Westbourne Presbyterian Church in east Belfast, was an RUC Special Branch officer for 16 years before joining the ministry in 1998.

He is an Orange district chaplain and was asked to become chairman of the commission in 2001 by former UUP leader David Trimble.

Since then, he has led the commission into talks with government and mediated during loyalist feuds.

According to parades forum members he was involved in the decision to seek a postponement of the Orange Order's original Whiterock parade last year.

Mr Gibson said last week: "I was asked to go and I did go without hesitation.

"When you have lost the confidence of people, right or wrong, there's no point in trying to carry on. I wish the commission all the best."

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