The British government encouraged leading organisers of contentious sectarian parades to apply for posts on the Parades Commission during a secret meeting last autumn, it has been revealed.
The Parades Commission is supposed to rule in an even-handed manner on the routes of contentious anti-Catholic parades in the north of Ireland.
It has been revealed British direct-rule minister Shaun Woodward met Orange Order Grand Master Robert Saulters and Democratic Unionist Party MP Nigel Dodds in September to get members of the Protestant marching organisations to apply.
Within weeks, leading Orangemen David Burrows and Don MacKay were appointed to the seven-strong commission. At no time were nationalist residents’ groups, who oppose coat-trailing parades in their areas, encouraged to apply or consulted.
British Direct Ruler Peter Hain oversaw an appointment process which saw bogus references overlooked, resulting in a series of scandals and damaging revelations recently. Don McKay has since resigned from the commission, while David Burrows is also under pressure to go.
Sinn Féin assembly member John O’Dowd accused Mr Hain of behaving like the “lord viceroy of Ireland”.
“The appointment procedure is in place to protect the rights of all in society. To abuse the procedure is to abuse the rights of all in society,” he said.
Mr Hain’s “arrogant” approach had undermined public confidence in the commission, he said.
Hain has come under increased political criticism after the High Court ruled on Friday that the appointments were unlawful.
Joe Duffy, a resident of the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown, had gone to the High Court seeking to overturn the appointment of Mr Burrows and Mr MacKay.
The Garvaghy Road was the scene of major disturbances in the late nineties as Orangemen and loyalist supporters laid siege to the area in their attempts to force triumphalist parades through the Catholic estates.
A judge described a decision that the Orangemen’s appointment would not result in a conflict of interest over marches in Portadown as “inexplicable”.
Garavaghy residents’ spokesman Breandán MacCionnaith said the commission was now “contaminated”. He said the commission must be independent and neither Orangemen nor nationalist residents’ representatives should be members of it.
The SDLP’s Dolores Kelly, one of the bogus referees used in the appointments process, said the judgment vindicated her party’s stance on what was “a debacle” by Britain’s Northern Ireland Office.
“Instead of facing up to and rectifying their actions they preferred to lash out at the SDLP and create more problems for themselves,” Ms Kelly added.
Meanwhile, the troubled commission has granted the Protestant Orange Order permission to stage a contentious march along the disputed section of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown.
The Parkmount junior Orange lodge will parade past nationalist homes on May 27.