Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland


  In every democratic society the State has a responsibility to protect certain fundamental rights including, freedom of religious belief, free speech, freedom of assembly, the right of free association, the right to live in peace and the right of cultural expression.

  In many countries these rights are enshrined in either the Constitution of the country or a Bill of Rights.

  The right of free association and right of assembly underpin the right to parade.

  Parades are very much part of the Orange tradition and heritage as over 200 years ago the founding fathers decided that parades were an appropriate medium to witness for their faith and to celebrate their cultural heritage. However the concept of parades by the community that gave birth to the Orange Institution was well established long before the first Orange Order parade in 1796. It is a matter of historical record that parades were a feature of the community for many years prior to the formation of the Orange Institution.

  We therefore welcome the opportunity to register our views on the workings of the Parades Commission since its inception.



  The Parades Commission has its roots in the Independent Review of Parades and Marches as established by Her Majesty's Government in August 1996. The North Report, as it became known, was completed in January 1997.

  The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland both in an initial submission to the Review body and in a response to their Report detailed our views on parades and the way forward. Regrettably the points we made in both instances were largely ignored.

  The independent Parades Commission was established on 26 March 1997. The Commission initially had an informal role.

  On 17 October 1997 the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Bill was proposed by the then Secretary of State, Dr M Mowlam, to formalise the remit of the Commission, including granting it authority to determine on parades.

  Grand Lodge again put forward its views and expressed to Government concerns at the impact of the proposed legislation.

  On 27 October 1997 the Parades Commission produced draft proposals in respect of Public Processions and Parades in the form of three booklets—a Code of Conduct, Procedural Rules and Guidelines.

  It is interesting to note that on 25 April 1997 the Parades Commission had written to Grand Lodge seeking a nomination from the Institution to provide expert advice on a Code of Conduct. Grand Lodge confirmed on 2 June of that year that it was willing to nominate two representatives to meet with the Parades Commission on this specific issue.

  The original letter from the Parades Commission stated "The Commission is keen to ensure that in drafting the code, we should seek to build upon the expertise of those with most experience in organising parades and processions in order to produce a practical and sensible working document". Despite this our representatives were never invited to a meeting with the Parades Commission.

  Upon becoming aware that the draft Code of Conduct was almost ready for publication we wrote on 13 October to the Parades Commission expressing surprise at this given the non involvement of our representatives. In a letter of 15 October from the Parades Commission we were advised that after publication of the draft our two representatives would be among those consulted. That never happened.

  On 16 February 1998 the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 received Royal Assent.


    (a)  The Parades Commission is an unelected quango allegedly accountable to no one for the decisions it makes. We are deeply disappointed that the creation of another quango is considered in any way an adequate or even a realistic answer to the problems facing our society.

    (b)  The apparatus it operates within, the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act is legislation which in our opinion fundamentally undermines basic human rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of movement. As an organisation committed to civil and religious liberty for all it would be hypocritical of us to support the Commission.

    (c)  The work of the Commission legitimises the concept of apartheid. By accepting the view that the public highway cannot be traversed by certain groups because people of another tradition may live on or near part of the route is to give credibility to an apartheid system based on cultural, racial or religious grounds. The Orange Institution in South Africa could not operate in the apartheid era because we could not accept the restrictions it imposed. We cannot accept apartheid within Northern Ireland.

    (d)  The Commission is incapable of abiding by its own procedural rules in that it has not announced the determinations as promised.

    (e)  The Commission and the legislation provides for a "law breakers charter". The North Report stressed that legislation must "provide no encouragement for those who seek to promote disorder". Inevitably, however, the Commission will issue determinations based on the possible violent reaction of others to parades.


  It is a fact that many people in Northern Ireland including members of the Orange Institution see the Parades Commission as part of the problem rather than part of the solution as was predicted in May 1997, by Ken Maginnis, MP.

  Civil liberties have been denied. Community relations have deteriorated and the threat of violence by protest groups has been rewarded.

  Within the framework of the existing legislation, the Parades Commission because of its power to issue determinations has effectively destroyed any possibility of it facilitating mediation. The News Letter of 20 December 1997 stated that the Rev Roy Magee had resigned from the Commission "to use his mediation skills"—but on the ground rather than as part of a body being given the clout to ban and re-route contentious parades.

  This power to issue determinations on parades means that the legislation is perceived as being one sided. Parades are much more important to the Protestant/Unionist community as an expression of their culture and identity than to the Nationalist community. The Commission would have at least started from a "level playing field" if it had been established as a cultural commission with the ability to consider all aspects of culture and how they impact upon the community.

  It would also have been more effective if it had been established as an advisory committee as suggested by the General Board of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in June 1996.

  It is our opinion that the Commission has incorrectly interpreted the legislation in regard to Section 7 of the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 and specifically with regard to "any public disorder or damage to property which may result from the procession".

  Logic surely dictates that only if those on parade are involved in public disorder or damage to property should their civil liberties be infringed. The reality however is that numerous parades have had conditions imposed upon them because of the threat of public disorder etc from another source. The Independent Review of Parades and Marches stresses in Paragraph 50, Point V, of the Executive Summary that legislation must "provide no encouragement for those who seek to promote disorder". Regretfully that is precisely what has happened.

  The Parades Commission has to have regard to any impact which the procession may have on relationships within the community. With one notable exception (Ormeau Road July 1998) the Commission have assumed that relationships are only affected if a "disputed" Orange parade proceeds. It would appear that the feelings of protesters are viewed with more compassion than those engaging in a peaceful witness for their faith or expression of their culture.

  It is quite astounding that the Parades Commission have singularly failed to recognise the fact that opposition to Orange parades has been orchestrated for political purposes by Sinn Fein.

  It is well documented how this campaign was established by convicted terrorists to increase tension within the community and not because there was a difficulty per se with Orange parades.

  The words of Gerry Adams speaking at a Republican Conference in County Meath (Republic of Ireland) in 1997 stated "Ask any activist in the North did Drumcree happen by accident, and they will tell you `no' . . . three years of work on the Lower Ormeau Road, Portadown and parts of Fermanagh and Newry, Armagh and Bellaghy and up in Derry". "Three years work went into creating that situation, and fair play to those people who put the work in".

  Statements like this and other documented evidence clearly show the political nature of opposition to Orange parades, and it is a dangerous fallacy to believe that such opposition can be placated through adjustments made by those on parade. There is a well orchestrated campaign to destroy our cultural expression and our civil rights.

  In their determination to date the Parades Commission have:

    (i)  Issued contradictory statements.

    (ii)  Been inaccurate.

    (iii)  Shown little evidence of research.

    (iv)  Taken decisions because of perceived threats from others.

    (v)  Been inconsistent in their determinations.

    (vi)  Shown an obvious lack of accountability.

  There are many examples of these but in the interests of brevity we intend to highlight only a few.

(a)  Contradictory statements

  i.  In the determination pertaining to Crumlin on 13 July 1998 it states "There will be disruption to the life of the community which is an inevitable aspect of a parade on this scale". However in determinations where parades have conditions imposed it invariably cites disruption to the life of the community as a reason.

  ii.  In relation to parades on the Ormeau Road a determination of 28 June 1998 stated that conditions still did not exist to enable a parade to take place. However a determination of 6 July 1998 (a mere eight days later) approved a parade on the Ormeau Road on 13 July.

  iii.  The 12 July 1999 Orange parade in Newtownhamilton was restricted "because of the impact on community relations of this traditional parade proceeding along the entirety of the notified route". On 17 March 2000 a Nationalist parade in Kilkeel was allowed to parade its full route along the mainly Unionist Greencastle Street—something that had not happened for over 25 years.

(b)  Inaccuracies

  i.  In relation to Ballynafeigh a preliminary consideration claimed there is a lengthy history of opposition to parades on the Ormeau Road but goes on to say that until the early '70s the Ormeau Road was considered a Protestant area and that there are no records of formal protests at the parades prior to 1992. Where then is the lengthy opposition?

  ii.  In the 1998 Newry determination whilst referring to the 12 July 1996 in Newry it states "Later in the day a peaceful protest was mounted in Hill Street in opposition to the main Twelfth Parade". In fact this was far from peaceful with the marchers subject to sectarian abuse and the police had difficulty in containing the so called "peaceful protesters".

  iii.  The 1998 Consideration of Contentious Parades in Newry advised that Newry and Mourne District Council had established a committee to discuss arrangements for dialogue between nationalist residents and the loyal orders . . . However we understand . . . the Loyal Orders have failed to respond to this opportunity. Newry Orangemen in fact met several Unionist Councillors together with the Clerk of Council and a number of Council Officers. In addition, a written submission was made to the committee.

  iv.  In its consideration of the "Tour of the North" parade in Belfast in June 1998 the Parades Commission refers to the proposed route "passing close to the Clifton Tavern the scene of a sectarian attack". Clifton Tavern is not near the parade route. Aside from this the Orange Order has always condemned sectarian attacks and it is despicable to use such an attack as an excuse to deny our cultural expression.

(c)  Lack of research

  The Commission appears to have fallen into the trap of accepting evidence at "face value".

  i.  In the context of Portadown the Parades Commission appear to have concerned themselves with socio-economic conditions as presented by the residents of the Garvaghy Road. There is no evidence of the Commission having attempted to ascertain the facts.

  ii.  Determinations about Portadown have consistently failed to take into account proximity talks etc had taken place.

  iii.  In the Ballynafeigh situation it is noted that talks took place in 1995 and that agreement had not been achieved. However there is no evidence of why this was. Simple research would have shown that the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community grouping backed out of the agreement.

  iv.  The Newry 1998 Determination states "the residents group has challenged loyal order parades through the main commercial centre of Newry"—There are no residents along the parade route in the "commercial centre".

  v.  In respect of the 12 July 1999 Newtownhamilton determination the Commission states "Dundalk Street is perceived to be nationalist and almost entirely residential in character". In fact Dundalk Street is a mixed area with both Protestant residents and Protestant businesses (it is accepted that the majority of residents are Roman Catholic). Statements like this from the Parades Commission only give credence to apartheid and given the record of ethnic cleansing in South Armagh there is a grave danger of such statements becoming accurate.

  vi.  In the determination for the 12 July 1999 parade in Lurgan the Commission stated "the potential disruption to the life of the community . . . which it considers would come about as a result of this parade". When challenged the Commission suddenly realised that "there should be little disruption to the life of the community at 8.15 am" on a Public Holiday.

(d)  Threats from others

  i.  Determinations for Castlewellan have noted that those on parade have always behaved with dignity and there is very little disruption to the life of the community but the parades have had restrictions imposed because of the threat of confrontation by those opposed to the parade.

  ii.  In Newry, it is recognised that there is no evidence of public disorder brought about by the behaviour of those on parade, but there have been incidents of disorder where some engaged in protest action clashed with the police.

  iii.  In Bellaghy reference is made to the disruption to the life of the community because of police action necessitated by protest against the parade and subsequently the parades have had restrictions imposed.

  iv.  The determination for an Orange parade on 12 July 1999 in Strabane states that there has been "minimal disruption to the life of the community" and that the proposed parade "does not of itself constitute either a threat to public order or to have an adverse impact upon community relations". However, the parade had restrictions placed upon it because in the view of the Commission there was "potential for serious disorder and damage to property should the parade proceed . . . at the same time as a notified protest is taking place".

  v.  In the June 1998 "Tour of the North" determination the Commission states "we heard no evidence of bad behaviour on the part of . . . participants in the parade. Indeed we were told of efforts made by Orangemen to ensure rigorous stewarding of the parade and of the steps taken to control `hangers on' . . . However the Commission concludes by noting the "potential for public disorder arising not from the behaviour of the parade participants but from the reaction the parade will provoke".

(e)  Inconsistency

  i.  The 1998 Determinations regarding Portadown and the Ormeau Road are inherently inconsistent. It is accepted that in relation to Portadown "It is a Church Parade, it has been demonstrated that it can take place in an orderly fashion and the Garvaghy Road is an arterial route". The Ballynafeigh determination refers to a history of parades being associated with public disorder, considerable disruption to the life of the community, a significant adverse impact on relationships within the community and that some parades would not have measured up to standards in the Code of Conduct. Yet the Portadown parade had conditions imposed whilst the Ormeau Road parade proceeded (NB we do not accept the statements ref Ballynafeigh as being accurate).

  ii.  As stated above the 1998 preliminary consideration of parades on the Ormeau Road refers to a history of parades being associated with public disorder . . . from the behaviour of some parade participants. The 12 July 1999 determination for the Ormeau Road states "there has been no recent history of disorder or damage to property resulting from the behaviour of members of the Orange Order".

  iii.  The Ballynafeigh determination approving the parade states "there is now a clear emerging sense of deep hurt amongst loyalists which arise from decisions to re-route. This is in danger of spilling over into serious law and order situation which is harmful to both communities. We therefore cannot ignore the damaging effect that this will have on relationships within the wider community". Is this not also true of Portadown and a number of other areas?

  iv.  In relation to a parade in Mountfield on 28 June the commission "noted the potential for disorder" arising from a nationalist protest and "the likelihood of significant disruption to the life of the community". The determination goes on to state "these factors in isolation do not justify a decision to impose conditions". In countless other determinations these factors are used to justify the imposition of conditions.

  v.  The determination for a church parade in Pomeroy on 11 July 1999 states "we would generally see Church parades which are on a smaller scale, as least likely either to cause disruption or to impact adversely on relationships within the community provided they are limited to processing from their normal starting point to the Church in question". The truth of the matter however is that numerous small Church parades, most notably in Dunloy and on the Ormeau Road, Belfast, have had restrictions imposed.

(f)  Lack of accountability

  The Parades Commission has in the past adopted a dogmatic and condescending approach without fear of rebuke or correction. It has long been our opinion that the Parades Commission should have been made accountable to parliamentary scrutiny, possibly through the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and we suggested this to Her Majesty's Government at the time of the recent review.


  A considered view of the work of the Parades Commission must conclude that it has failed to meet its objectives. The Orange Institution would contend that this was inevitable.

  Even more seriously however the outworking of the Parades Commission has moved beyond this through its alienation of a large section of the people and its perceived bias against the parading tradition of the Protestant community.

  A detailed examination of Parade Commission determinations will prove that there is little consistency applied and even less logic.

  It appears that any excuse will be used to impose conditions on a parade even though it may directly contradict other statements by the Commission.

  The most obvious example of a facetious reason occurred in the 1998 determination for Portadown District LOL No.1's Church parade to Drumcree Parish Church when the Commission stated ". . . it is a Church parade, it has been demonstrated that it can take place in an orderly fashion, and the Garvaghy Road is an arterial route. However we see the need to break the cycle . . .".

  This has even been carried to the extent that responsible leadership by the Orange Institution in relation to parades has subsequently been used against it. For example Orangemen in Armagh on 12 July 1997 voluntarily curtailed their parade route in response to a deteriorating security situation and the Parades Commission reaction in a determination for 12 July 1999 imposed route restrictions "which reflected the voluntary curtailment of traditional parades in 1997".

  As previously stated we do not believe that the Parades Commission as it is presently constituted can deal with the issues and it should be abolished.

  In the absence of this it most certainly must be made accountable and the interpretation of the legislation must be logical and unbiased. In particular the provisions of human rights legislation must be applied whereby the threat of others cannot be allowed to interfere with the legitimate right of a people to express their faith or culture.

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