Britain drastically overhauled the membership Wednesday of a commission responsible for regulating Northern Ireland's divisive annual parades _ and for the first time persuaded a senior member of the key Protestant marching group the Orange Order to join.
Britain's decision to appoint David Burrows, who recently quit from a senior post in the hard-line Protestant brotherhood, surprised both sides of this long-divided community.
Leading the reformed seven-member commission, which takes office Jan. 1, will be Roger Poole, a veteran English trade-union official and government troubleshooter.
Also joining will be a senior firefighter, Don MacKay, who is an Orangeman and activist in the main Protestant political party, the hard-line Democratic Unionists.
Britain's minister responsible for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, singled out the appointment of Burrows and MacKay as significant.
"I am particularly pleased that two people with personal experience and understanding of the Orange Order, and the cultural importance of parades, have been appointed to the commission," Hain said.
Orange Order leaders traditionally have refused to talk with the Parades Commission since its formation in 1997. Analysts said the appointment of Burrows, who resigned from his leadership position in the 50,000-member fraternity five months ago, might provide the key to opening dialogue.
But Catholic politicians said they feared that the new board was biased against their side and would give approval to parades that in previous years have been barred from passing near Catholic areas.
Such confrontations has triggered widespread riots in most years since 1995, when Catholic hard-liners began mounting organized opposition to the Orangemen's sectarian demonstrations.
The new lineup of commissioners "looks different from the representative commissions of the past," said Moderate Catholic politician Alex Attwood, policing spokesman for the Social Democratic and Labour Party.
"The question is: Will it now act differently on key parading issues? Will the new commission dissent from the well-judged body of decisions made by previous commissions on contentious parades?" he said.
In September, Protestant parts of Belfast suffered four nights of rioting after the existing Parades Commission barred an Orange parade from part of a major road dividing Protestant and Catholic districts in west Belfast.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said 81 police officers were wounded, 116 vehicles hijacked and burned, 146 homemade grenades hurled and 115 bullets fired at police positions. The police commander, Chief Constable Hugh Orde, blamed Orange leaders for encouraging the mob violence, AP reported. V.A.