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Friday, 31 December, 1999, 00:03 GMT
Peerage for Parades chairman

Alistair Graham: Honoured for role as mediator

Parades Commission chairman Alistair Graham and Ulster Unionist Party president Josias Cunningham are to receive knighthoods in the New Year Honours list.

They top a list of 98 people to receive honours in Northern Ireland, including a senior police officer and a councillor who played key roles in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing which killed 29 people in August 1998.

Mr Graham, 57, has been the central figure in determining the fate of Northern Ireland's bitterly contested parades dispute for close to three years and is due to step down from the chairmanship of the Parades Commission in February.

His elevation is likely to anger those who have felt short-changed by rulings imposed by the commission, particularly the loyal orders which have consistently refused to accept its authority.

'Difficult circumstances'

However, he said progress had been made on the subject and added: "I would warmly encourage those who have shown real leadership, often in very difficult circumstances, to participate in local dialogue and to seek to achieve local understanding about the actual background to parades."

Northumberland-born Mr Graham, whose background is primarily in the trade union movement and public administration in England, said it had been "a privilege" to work in Northern Ireland when its people were determining their future destiny.

Police have had confrontations with loyal orders over parades
"I see this honour not for myself, but for all the members and staff of the Parades Commission who have demonstrated such outstanding public service in the most difficult circumstances."

The knighthood for Mr Cunningham comes towards the end of a highly traumatic Period for the Ulster Unionist Party.

Described as an elder statesman within the UUP, he has been president of the UUP Council since 1990.

He is said to have kept his own views on the peace process private in the face of deep internal divisions to act as a unifying force within the party.

Born into a farming family in south Co Antrim nearly 66 years ago and educated at Cambridge, he is a Deputy Grand Master of the Orange Order.

His only high profile political role was in the Brooke-Mayhew talks of 1991 and 1992.

Les Rodgers: Representing rank and file RUC officers
Mr Cunningham has spent most of his working life as a leading figure in Northern Ireland's small financial services sector, heading local stockbrokers, Cunningham Coates until earlier this year when he retired to run the family farm near Templepatrick.

The MBE award for Police Federation chairman Les Rodgers follows the recent bestowal of the George Medal on the entire membership, past and present, Royal Ulster Constabulary for its role in countering terrorism in Northern Ireland.

Oscar-nominated Liam Neeson will also be pleased to receive his OBE.

As well as playing a starring role in Stars Wars-the Phantom Menace earlier this year, he took the role of Irish rebel leader Michael Collins in the Neil Jordan film during 1997.

Liam Neeson: Played role as IRA leader, Michael Collins
Collins was the guerilla leader of the IRA who fought against the British in the War of Independence in 1919-21.

Mr Neeson recently donated the substantial proceeds of a successful libel action he and his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, brought against a number of newspapers, to the Omagh fund.

The list also includes:

  • Allan Rainey, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party and chairman of Omagh District Council. He becomes an MBE for services to the community and to local government.
  • Superintendent James Baxter who took immediate charge of police activity following the Omagh atrocity on 15 August 1998. He receives the Queen's Police Medal.
  • Sandra Peake, director of victims' group Widows Against Violence Empower (WAVE), also becomes MBE for services to people bereaved and traumatised.
  • Northern Ireland State Pathologist Derek Carson is awarded the OBE.
  • Briedge Gadd, head of Northern Ireland Probation Service becomes a CBE.
  • Belfast Telegraph farming correspondent Michael Drake who becomes an MBE for services to journalism.
  • Tom McDevitte, best known for his Barney McCool column in the Tyrone Constitution, also becomes an MBE.
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