12 May 2006

APPOINTMENT OF ORANGEMEN TO PARADES COMMISSION CHALLENGED

IAIS

05/12/06 09:37 EST

The appointment of two Orangemen to the Parades Commission, which rules on contentious Orange parades in Northern Ireland, has been challenged in the High Court in Belfast.

A resident of the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown which has been at the center of Drumcree parade`s dispute for the past decade, is seeking to overturn Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain`s appointment of the two Orangemen last November.

Mr Hain appointed David Burrows, a prominent Portadown Orangeman, and one time District Master in the organisation, and Donald MacKay, a fellow Portadown member of the Orange Order, who is also a member of the Royal Black Institution and the Democratic Unionist party.

However Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary of State did not appoint any member of the nationalist resident groups who have been campaigning against Orange parades through their districts.

At a judicial review hearing Barry MacDonald, QC, for the Garvaghy resident Joe Duffy expressed incredulity at the appointment of what he called "two prominent members of the Orange lodge that for 10-years has been a part of the single most contentious parade in Northern Ireland, namely Drumcree."

Mr MacDonald said: "Neither could conceivably be regarded as impartial or unaffected."

And he told Mr Justice Morgan that in the absence from anyone from the resident`s side of parade disputes, "we say the composition of the commission is not representative of the community."

He questioned whether the decision by the government had been mistaken or calculated.

Mr MacDonald said a report to the government on the parades issue prior to the appointment of new Parade Commission members had declared: "It goes without saying that the members of the Parade`s Commission would have to be impartial."

He said the Secretary of State had agreed that members of the commission were required to be impartial.

He questioned how Mr Hain and his advisors could have considered the two men selected to join the seven-member commission as impartial.

The Northern Ireland Office, he said, had contacted the leaders of the main political parties in Northern Ireland, the main churches and the three marching orders seeking to drum up applicants for the commission.

However he said the Northern Ireland office did not contact other interested parties or community groups on nationalist areas, he said.

The QC said when Mr Burrows and Mr MacKay applied and went through the appointment process they had freely listed their Orange Order credentials.

He said: "It beggars belief," that within the Northern Ireland Office "they did not identify either of these applicants to have either a real conflict of interest or a perceived conflict of interest."

He said it appeared from documentation provided to the court by the government that the men`s Orange Order background was "looked at not as a potential problem but a real asset".

Unfortunately, he said, there was no written documentation or minutes about the meeting at which Mr Hain and his then security minister Shaun Woodward made the appointment decision.

He said that meant there was no explanation of whether Mr Hain considered there to have been a real or perceived conflict of interest himself.

Nevertheless he said: "By any standards this was a decision that must be quashed."

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