16 May 2006

Orangeman to leave parades body

BBC

An Orangeman appointed to the Parades Commission is about to resign from the body, it is understood.

Don MacKay has been criticised for putting two politicians forward as referees on his application form without first asking their permission.

Both DUP Upper Bann MP David Simpson and SDLP Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly said they would not have supplied Mr MacKay with a reference.

It is believed the commission is yet to receive a formal letter of resignation.

It is understood Mr Mackay ticked a box on his application form to say he wished to be informed prior to any of his references being taken up and had intended to contact Ms Kelly at that stage.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Simpson said no-one had contacted him about the application, which, he said, he would not have supported.

Similarly in February, SDLP Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly called on Mr MacKay to resign from the body after he named her as a referee without asking.

Ms Kelly said she believed he should have stood down earlier.

"It was the right thing to do in the circumstances, and the only pity is that it was not done sooner," she said.

"Allowing the affair to drag on has just done damage to the Parades Commission from which I hope it will quickly recover."

Parades Commission chairman Roger Poole told the BBC he believed Mr MacKay had made the "right decision".

"I think with the difficulties that have surrounded his appointment over the past couple of months and all the speculation in the press meant that Don felt that it was in the best interests of the commission and himself to resign," he said.

Mr MacKay, a former UUP councillor who is now in the DUP, was appointed last November by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Hain said he understood Mr MacKay's reasons for leaving the commission.

"I regret that Don MacKay has had to resign from the Parades Commission but I fully understand his reasons for doinfg so," he said.

"I made all of the appointments to the Parades Commission in good faith and to introduce fresh thinking."

On Monday, Methodist minister Jim Rea revealed he had not given permission for another Orangeman, David Burrows, to use his name as a referee for a post on the body.

Both men's appointments to the commission have been challenged in the courts.

A hearing ended on Monday, with the judgement reserved until a later date.

However, Mr Poole said the situation surrounding Mr Burrows was "very different" and he "shouldn't have to consider his position at all".

"As I understand it, David did ask the individual concerned if he would be a referee for him, not for the Parades Commission but if he ever needed a reference - that person said he was prepared to do so, so David put him down as a referee," he said.

"It is important that we have got an Orange voice on the commission because it is Orangemen who organise these parades.

"I don't think there's any question about David's membership of this commission."

Speaking before Mr MacKay resigned, Brendan MacCionnaith from the Garvaghy Road Residents Association said on Tuesday that the commission's "overall position" was becoming "increasingly untenable".

"Either Burrows and MacKay resign, or the secretary of state is going to have to sack them," he said.

The government-appointed Parades Commission was set up in 1997 to make decisions on whether controversial parades should be restricted.

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