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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 16:10 GMT
Order and SDLP to discuss parades
The Orange Order is to discuss parades with the SDLP
The Orange Order is to meet the nationalist SDLP for the first time to discuss its attitude to issues related to the loyalist marching season.

The Order has written to the SDLP seeking a meeting and a party spokeswoman said the party was "happy to meet the marching orders".

The spokeswoman said the SDLP's position was "very clear on parades".

"We believe there needs to be face to face dialogue at a local level without preconditions," she said.

"We also believe that everybody needs to work constructively with the Parades Commission."

The Orange Order is also seeking a meeting with NI Secretary Peter Hain to demand fresh legislation on parades. In addition it has written to the Alliance party seeking discussions.

BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport said the Order has consulted in recent times with the Protestant churches and both main unionist parties about the way forward.

"However, senior Orange sources are still ruling out dialogue with both the Parades Commission and Sinn Fein," he said.

"The Order is hoping that this year's Twelfth will be viewed more as a community festival than a demonstration.

"The Order is in contact with the Northern Ireland Events Company about government funding for a number of re-enactments and other activities which it intends will coincide with the Twelfth parades."

Northern Ireland's marching season is one of the fixed elements of Northern Ireland life, and in recent years it has become one of the most disputed.

Members of "loyal orders" - of which the Orange Order is the largest - parade in ceremonial garb.

In places where the Order tries to march through Catholic areas, residents see the parades as intimidatory and designed to raise tensions.

The Parades Commission is an independent, quasi-judicial body set up in 1997 to rule on parades.

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