Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. The Institution takes the view that the curtailment of rights to march along a specific route along the public highway is a breach of the marchers' human rights. Others would argue that the intrusion of an unwanted march breaches their rights. Does the Institution accept that unwanted marches are a breach of the rights of the residents?
  (Mr Watson) First of all, in reply to you, Mr Thompson, going back again to Drumcree/Garvaghy Road, I have difficulty when I know a certain Republican, from 20, 25 miles away, in County Tyrone, travels to the Garvaghy Road to be offended on the first Sunday in July, and has done for a number of years. I can say that Mr Bingham and myself, in the past, have spoken to residents of the Garvaghy Road, I am not talking about the Coalition, we have sought the views of the ordinary residents on the road, we have spoken to the Catholic clergy, representing the residents on the road, and we have spoken to others, and the general consensus of opinion is that the people in Portadown would be quite happy to see that parade going down along the road on the first Sunday in July, coming back from the Drumcree service, where they have commemorated the Battle of the Somme, when both Catholic and Protestant was slaughtered in France, defending liberty and freedom, and we are somewhat at a loss when we see Brendon McKenna and his colleagues being able to intimidate people and keep a blockade on against an Orange Institution coming in, to a main arterial route, back into Portadown, which has been acknowledged by one of the previous Chief Constables and is already on record as saying that it is a major arterial route, and it is the shortest route, actually, back into Portadown. And the other thing I would say is that in 1997, when the Parades Commission was just in its formation, the then Chairman and some of the members of the Commission accompanied the Orange parade out along the road to the Drumcree service, they stayed out for the service and then returned in along the route into Portadown. Now, on that particular occasion, that is the last occasion that the Portadown Orangemen have been allowed to return back in. I have to question, and I would like possibly this Committee, if you get the chance, to ask, what changed between 1997 and 1998 that we have seen a block of the parade thereafter, because all the conditions that the Orange Institution agreed and offered to comply with, in a letter that both William and I sent to every resident on the road, we complied with every condition, and that parade went down on the day in question and at the time in question and the Orange Institution did not breach anything. And I think it would be in the interests of this Committee to investigate why that parade was able to go down in 1997 but was blocked thereafter.
  (Mr Bingham) I think, if I could just add, certainly, as the Institution, Mr Thompson, we would not want to be dismissive of other people's opinions or feelings on our parades, and we would recognise at times, at least we have been told, that there is a conflict of rights involved in the thing. But what I would say to you is that the Institution, time and time again, has sought to listen and to take on board the feelings of the community; but there has to be a compromise somewhere along the line, and when you continually get back that the bottom line for the other group is "No Orange feet on this road," then it is very difficult for us to accommodate that.

  101. Would you accept that the residents have some rights in these matters?
  (Mr Bingham) We accept that every person in Northern Ireland has rights to live their life freely and without hindrance.

  102. And you would accept, therefore, that the Institution has tried to balance the rights of the Orangemen's situation and the rights of the residents by the negotiations you have had with them?
  (Mr Bingham) We are always trying to balance things. I can remember, on one occasion, when the band that we used in one of our parades was objected to and the music that was played, we listened to what was coming from local people and we changed the band to an accordion band, and we asked Roman Catholic people to make us familiar with hymn tunes that were common to both our traditions, and the band then played those hymn tunes that both of us would have known.

  103. Would you accept that the Commission is trying to balance both rights, the rights of the Orangemen and the rights of the residents?
  (Mr Bingham) No, I think, absolutely not. I think it is wed, and its emphasis has always been in favour of residents' groups. I do not think it really has shown any kind of understanding or sympathy of the Orange Institution.

  104. What input did the Institution make to the Northern Ireland Office review of the Commission, and what is its assessment of the conclusions?
  (Mr Patton) Mr Thompson, when we received the invitation, along with everyone else, to make a submission to the review, we did that, we made a written submission, we met with representatives of the Northern Ireland Office, and, indeed, we met with the Secretary of State regarding it, and I would be very happy to let this Committee have a copy of our written submission to that. I would have to say that the feeling that I certainly got, at the time, even in discussions, was that we were involved in an exercise the result of which had already been predetermined. And, as we had spoken to North, at that time, when we had commented upon the North Report, when it was being reviewed, we have commented at that review, and time after time we just get the feeling that, despite being the largest organisation that actually organises parades, our views were being totally ignored, time after time, year after year.

  105. Do you think, indeed, that the review produced any conclusions?
  (Mr Patton) From a personal perspective, I do not think that it did. I think it was a paper exercise.

  Mr Thompson: Thank you very much.


  106. Before I call Mr Grogan, can I just get a clearer idea of why you reckoned that no attention was being paid to you; is this instinct, or is it reflected in words that were used to you?
  (Mr Bingham) It is not just instinct, I think it is experience as well. Even before the time of the initial legislation coming and being formed, we had put forward our views to the then Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, and during the summer, just prior to the legislation coming out in September, we had dreadful difficulties throughout the Province, and the Orange Order called off four parades in four major towns to try to defuse the situation; something that took a lot of courage from some of our members to do. We felt that we had shown our concern to bring about peace and stability to the Province and to deal with problems, if there were any, with regard to the parades; and so we had mentioned to the Secretary of State things that we felt should be incorporated into the legislation, which she felt, at that stage, she could do. When we met her again in September, she just simply said that she was unable to deliver points that we wanted within that legislation.

  107. I am not in any way seeking anything which is confidential, but would you like to give an example of one of the four things which you sought to incorporate?
  (Mr Bingham) Very simply, the name "Parades Commission" is automatically loaded against one tradition, and that is the Protestant/Orange tradition, which is a parading institution. We felt that there were aspects of Gaelic and Nationalist culture that were offensive to us, as Protestants; but, because we did not make a song and dance about it, because we did not protest about it, because we were not causing widespread violence throughout the Province, it was being ignored. And at that stage we certainly felt that, obviously we were led to believe, that legislation would include a broader look at the expression of culture and not just narrowed down to the Protestant and Orange tradition.

Mr Grogan

  108. You mentioned earlier on that there was an overwhelming majority amongst the Lodges against any contact with the Parades Commission; so is there a significant minority who would perhaps argue that, in order to get your point across, one of the reasons perhaps why the Parades Commission is not reflecting your view as much as you would like it to do is because there is no contact, and when was it last discussed, and how significant is that minority?
  (Mr Saulters) It was last discussed in June, and at that time they called for a secret ballot; normally, it was a show of hands, but they called for a secret ballot at that time within Grand Lodge, which is about 160 people, at present. So they were granted the secret ballot, and out of that, I think, there were about nine who would have talked to the Parades Commission.

  109. And it is all or nothing; is it, in the spirit of tolerance, presumably, you would not be happy for individual Lodges to speak to the Parades Commission, if they thought that was the correct thing to do?
  (Mr Saulters) No. That was the ruling of Grand Lodge, and the Lodges would not go against that. Also, I think part of the problem is, if you meet the Parades Commission, their bottom line is that you have to meet with Sinn Fein residents, and there are a number of brethren up around the country who just would not meet with Sinn Fein.

  110. Reverend Bingham, you began to talk about four points, how the Parades Commission could be improved, or, given that Parliament has passed the fact that the Parades Commission is going to be there, and there is no indication that Parliament is likely to change its mind in the near future, if you had three or four points that would make the Parades Commission better than it is now, and slightly more acceptable to you, what would they be?
  (Mr Bingham) I would have to say to you that I feel, within the Orange community, the Parades Commission is irredeemable.

  111. But you admitted, a few moments ago, an interesting comment, when you said that, occasionally, you do take on board criticisms of parades, and so on, you implied that sometimes the criticisms must be fair and reasonable, because you change your practice?
  (Mr Bingham) Simple things, like the Orange Order was getting criticism over the way some bands behaved on parade, so we brought out a Code of Conduct, and we have a contract that every band has to sign up to and keep, and if it breaks our Code of Conduct and breaks the agreement then it is no longer allowed to participate in Orange parades. So we do listen to what people are saying to us, we do not turn a blind eye to things that are wrong.

  112. But, in your view, you should be the sole arbiter of whether those criticisms are valid or not?
  (Mr Bingham) I think it is up to every body and every organisation to look at itself and to make its own decisions on how it is going to react to criticism, I do not think any political party would accept, I do not think the Labour Party would accept the Conservative Party telling them what to do to put their house in order. You may listen to what they say and you will make your judgement on that, but you would not certainly allow William Hague to tell you what to do.

  113. Just to return to my original point, as a Labour MP who is not actually going to back the Government today, on a particular point, the nine Lodges who obviously can see some point in talking to the Parades Commission, why not let them do that?
  (Mr Bingham) But that would not be nine Lodges, that would be nine individual people.

  114. But, presumably, they reflect the views of some of the Lodges?
  (Mr Bingham) That depends whether you view the other as a representative or a delegate.

  115. Finally, just looking at, because Parliament, as I say, has passed the fact that the Parades Commission should exist and has given it three tasks: promoting the understanding by the general public of the issues concerning public processions, promoting and facilitating mediation, and keeping itself informed as to the conduct of public processions and protest meetings, would you have any assessment on those three points, how they have performed; and would they not be able to perform a lot better if you would talk to them and reply to their letters?
  (Mr Saulters) If I could go back to 1995, before the Parades Commission came in, I spoke directly with Sinn Fein, through mediation, and the police were involved at that time as well. We had an agreement with them, on 10 July, at half-past three—this is the Ormeau Road now I am talking about, in Belfast—that the parade would go through on the 12th. That evening at half-past seven, whenever the Sinn Fein representatives went back to their neighbourhood, the thugs came out and they said "There's no way are they going down;" so there is no way I am talking to them. If their representatives cannot deliver, there is no point in talking to them. And that is one thing that the Parades Commission demands, that we talk to the residents' groups. There is no point. As we have pointed out again, in this article of the Newsletter, of the Apprentice Boys, we have tried it since 1995.
  (Mr Patton) I think, Mr Grogan, also, in terms of the three areas that you have mentioned specifically there, I would have to say, in my view, they have failed on all three. I am not sure what education, if any, they have carried out; the very fact that I do not know possibly would suggest that they have failed in that. Mediation, we have 295 possibly contentious parades that they have not been able to mediate, if that is their role. And, in terms of a greater understanding of our parades, and things like that, their own determinations made it very clear that they understand entirely the Orange Order, but as long as there is violence from another source everything else is irrelevant. Time after time, in our determinations, the local Orangemen are praised for their behaviour, their dignity, and so on and so forth, and then you get the "But", "This parade will be attacked, therefore the parade cannot go ahead." So I would have to say, on all three counts, it is a complete failure.

Mr Clarke

  116. Earlier on, we established the numbers for 1998/1999 of 295 contentious parades and 119 route restrictions; and I think it is fair to say that when we talk of "contentious" we talk of traditional parades. Given the very real demographic changes that have taken place across the Province, and are continuing to take place, as the population continues to grow, is it reasonable to expect that the routes of parades should be just set in stone?
  (Mr Patton) I think it is a very important point, Mr Clarke, and I think one of the important things is "traditional", that we do not introduce routes to offend people, we stick to our routes, we stick to arterial routes; and it is amazing to think that whenever you actually look at the contested routes they are main arterial routes, very little residential housing, the large vacant spaces, commercial property, and what have you, we are not going through residential areas. People actually have to leave their houses, in the majority of those places, to come and walk some considerable distance to be offended; very often to be offended at 8 o'clock on a Bank Holiday morning, to be offended on a Sunday lunch-time, when any other Sunday they would be having their lunch, and so on and so forth. And I think that it is important to bear that in mind and to realise where exactly, as an organisation, we do parade.

  117. You see, I am trying to tie that in with the comments made earlier on by Reverend Bingham, when he said, should the police force the march through, "I believe they should." So are we saying that the police should be used to force marches through where routes are contentious?
  (Mr Patton) I believe that it is a very dangerous signal to send to society, to say that legitimate expressions of faith and culture will be denied because of the threat of violence from others. I believe that the forces of law and order have to deal with the source of the threat.

  118. Are you happy for that in reverse, in terms of a Nationalist parade being forced through a Loyalist area?
  (Mr Patton) We are a tolerant people, as Mr Bingham has said, we generally do not object. We believe in toleration and we shall respect—we may not like it, but there is very, very little evidence of opposition by Loyalist and Unionist people, and I dare say none by the Orange Order, to Nationalist parades.
  (Mr Bingham) In fact, if I might just add that, on one occasion, in a village in the county in which I live, there was to be an Hibernian parade, which is the Nationalist equivalent of the Orange Order, so to speak, and they felt that they would call off their parade, because things were tense in Northern Ireland, and the local Lodge actually wrote and said "No; we will not object, go on ahead and have your parade."

  119. My final question is that it is quite clear, from your evidence, that you would wish to see the Parades Commission abolished, disbanded. Our inquiry concentrates principally on the current framework. We are aware of your views, but, if it were abolished, what, if anything, should replace it?
  (Mr Watson) I believe, Mr Clarke, that it should be in the hands of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who are there as the agents to enforce law and order, and, sadly, the Chief Constable, our current Chief Constable, does not want to have to involve his force in decisions for other matters that the force is undergoing at present, and being debated in other places today. And that, sadly, is one of the major issues. But I do believe it is a law and order problem, and it should rest fairly and squarely with the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

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