Memorandum submitted by Democratic Dialogue
We write in response to your call for evidence
"to examine the operation of the Parades Commission since
its inception". Democratic Dialogue has been working on the
parades issue since 1996. Dr Neil Jarman and Dr Dominic Bryan
have managed the various pieces of work. Prior to working with
Democratic Dialogue we ran a series of research projects with
the Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster,
Coleraine. Michael Hamilton is a research student at the University
of Ulster, Jordanstown examining public order legislation in Northern
Ireland. He has undertaken a study of how the Parades Commission
has used the criteria in section 8(6) of the Public Procession
(Northern Ireland) Act 1998 in their determinations. Dr Jarman
and Dr Bryan have been conducting research into parades for over
ten years and have a range of academic and policy publications
on parades disputes some of which I enclose
in the hope that it provides the Committee with useful background
material. Between us we have monitored hundreds of parades over
the last ten years.
We would like to place on record our assessment
of the conditions the Parades Commission has worked in along with
some brief comments with regard to the operation of the Commission.
1. The Parades Commission has had the legal
powers to make determinations over disputed parades for two years.
It is worth remembering that, for a range of reasons, parades
and demonstrations have created public order difficulties in Ireland
for the last two hundred years. Parades have taken place for a
variety of reasons but within the context of ethnic differences
in the north of Ireland they have always had a political character.
We would refer you to three of our reportsPolitical Rituals:
Loyalist Parades in Portadown, Parade and Protest: a Discussion
of Parading Disputes in Northern Ireland and From Riots to Rights:
Nationalist Parades in the North of Irelandin which we
have attempted to map the historical context within which parades
have developed. In Parade and Protest (p144-145) we have looked
at the recent increase in the numbers of parades within the Unionist
community. In From Riots to Rights we have similarly looked at
why there are significantly fewer parades within the Nationalist
community. The present disputes must be seen within the context
of inequalities of power between communities that are reflected
in the parading "traditions". We also enclose* a background
paper"Regulating Rights and Managing Public Order:
Parade Disputes and Peace Process, 1995-98"looking
at the development the present legal regime.
2. Policing public order within the context
of ethnic conflict is very complex. Even within political systems
where there is a high level of legitimacy given to the police
and judiciary, such as the rest of the UK or the US, conflicts
over rights to free assembly are not uncommon and are not easily
resolved (witness recent events in Seattle and Washington). In
Politics in Public: Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Protest
we have reviewed public order approaches in other parts of the
world in an attempt to draw out good practice. Some of our observations,
such as the placing of constraints on free assembly (p126-128)
and the use of stewards and monitors (p134-135), have been broadly
taken up by the Parades Commission.
3. It had been the opinion of many commentators
(see for instance the views of ex-Chief Constable Jack Hermon
in his autobiography p171-172) that the behaviour of many loyal
order parades had been unacceptable for sometime. Indeed, Mr Hermon
suggested that there was a need for a Parades "Tribunal"
as far back as 1985 (see The Belfast Telegraph 1 May 1986).
4. In approaching solutions to the parades
disputes, which significantly worsened after 1995, we strongly
favoured complex decisions (determinations) being removed from
the control of the police. The events in Portadown in 1996 and
1997 made this a priority. In setting up the Parades Commission
the authors of the North Report, to whom we made significant representations,
concurred with our thinking. We believe that policing has significantly
benefited from this change. Finding solutions to policing issues
would have been even harder had the RUC had to make such decisions
over the last two years.
5. The Parades Commission has had to work
within very difficult conditions. In particular it has had to
attempt to deal with an issue that had the potential to de-rail
the peace process. The parading issue was certainly too difficult
to be dealt with within the formal structures of the peace process.
As such, it is possible to argue that the Parades Commission has
contributed to attempts to find peace in Northern Ireland.
6. Within an unstable political context
the Parades Commission has endured a barrage of hostile rhetoric
which at times has gone so far as to suggest that the present
situation was of the Parades Commission's own making. In considering
the conduct of the Commission it is important to ask if there
were any reasonable alternatives that might have created significantly
improved conditions. The judicial system, with no history of developing
a positive position on rights, would not have easily dealt with
the problem. It may be that in the future, with the introduction
of the ECHR into UK law, this might change.
7. As such, the political and legal conditions
within which the Parades Commission has worked have made its job
very difficult. In addition, it was asked to fulfil two potentially
contradictory roles. On the one hand it was to encourage mediation,
on the other, to make determinations. The Northern Ireland Affairs
Committee may like to consider how easy it is for the Commission
to fulfil the roles of arbiter and mediator. We would suggest
there are no easy answers.
8. The balance between those two roles has
been managed by using the Mediation Network for Northern Ireland
to broadly develop mediation through a network of "fieldworkers"
known as Authorised Officers. We would commend to the Northern
Ireland Affairs Committee the work of the Authorised Officers
who, in very difficult conditions, have attempted to develop local
accommodation and gather information with which to inform the
Commission. Their task has been made very difficult by the attitude
of the Orange Order to mediation and the role of the Commission.
It is to the credit of the Authorised Officers that in spite of
hostility they have gained the trust of people in many communities.
9. We would suggest that there is evidence
that the work of the Parades Commission and the Authorised Officers
has led to a general improvement in the environment surrounding
parades in a number of areas. Determinations have been accepted
in many areas, albeit sometimes grudgingly, and accommodations
have been approached thanks to the skills of a range of mediators.
10. There are many determinations that the
Parades Commission has made that people have disagreed with. Whilst
in such difficult circumstances it is of course right to keep
under review the workings of a body like the Parades Commission
and it may be that changes could be made that improve its ability
to fulfil its statutory role, we would suggest that there are
no obvious solutions. It is worth asking, not whether the decisions
were right or wrong, but rather whether the decisions were reasonable
in the circumstances.
11. Portadown remains the most glaring problem.
We would suggest that no system could have been developed that
would have dealt with the serious community relations issues that
exist in Portadown. What has taken place in Portadown is about
much more than just one parade and solutions will need to be long-term
12. The Parades Commission has developed
a Code of Conduct that appears to us to be reasonable. It might
be useful for the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to reiterate
the importance of the Code being followed by all organisers of
processions and protests.
13. We believe the Northern Ireland Affairs
Committee should take note of projects to develop steward (marshal)
training (with which we were closely involved) funded by the Parades
Commission, successfully developed by the Apprentice Boys of Derry
and commended in the Patten Report on policing (9.9, 9.10). The
training scheme has now moved to a number of Further Education
Colleges and should benefit all sections of the community.
14. We would also draw to the attention
of the Committee our report on the monitoring of public orderIndependent
Intervention: Monitoring the Police, Parades and Public Orderwhich
was funded by the Parades Commission and the Community Relations
Council. Adequate monitoring of parades and protests particularly
with reference to the Code of Conduct can help create a better
environment for public expression. We also believe it offers ideas
for communities to develop some of their own solutions to public
15. It is evident that the introduction
of human rights laws into Northern Ireland might provide new solutions
to the problems concerning rights to parade. As such, the Parades
Commission might not need to remain in existence over the longer
term. However, there are a range of rights that relate to freedom
of assembly and privacy and conflict over these rights is still
likely. Human rights legislation will not solve what are some
fundamental community relations problems.
We hope that some of these brief points and
the enclosed reports aid the considerations of the Committee.
We would be pleased to offer any more help that the Committee
might feel we could provide.
19 April 2000
1 Evidence not reported. Back