Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 173 - 179)




  173. Mr Simpson, Mr Hay and Mr Hoey, you are extremely welcome. I apologise for the fact that we slightly delayed your evidence session. We took evidence from your predecessors for an hour and a half and, on the principle of the Judgment of Solomon, we are hoping to take evidence from you for an hour and a half too. I say that so that we can organise our mutual timetable so that we get through during the 90-minute period. We will work to the ground rules we ordinarily work to: if there is anything you want to gloss, if, having given an answer, you decide you want to add to it, do not hesitate either to do so orally now or in writing afterwards, and we will feel free to come back with supplementary questions in writing if it occurs to us, having read the transcript, that there is something else we should have asked. We will try to make the questions follow a logical order but the questions may therefore come from different quarters of the room and not necessarily go from person to person. Is there anything you would like to add in addition to the material you have already sent us?
  (Mr Simpson) No, just that whatever discussion we have here this morning I think you have already received all the details.

  174. That is grand. Let me ask an extremely simplistic question first. How many members do the Apprentice Boys have?
  (Mr Simpson) In a round figure, 10,000 members of the Apprentice Boys.

  175. Would you like to say a word about their geographical diffusion through the Province? In other words, where do the concentrations occur?
  (Mr Simpson) May I be permitted to give you, for a few minutes, a short history of the Apprentice Boys, to let you know where we are coming from? In doing that, then I think you will all understand.

  176. Yes. Please feel free to do that. When I said was there anything you wanted to add, that is what I was alluding to. If both of us watch the time as you do that—in other words, the law of reason prevails—then please do not hesitate to do that at the beginning of your evidence.
  (Mr Simpson) First of all, may I thank you very much for allowing us to come here this morning to put a case. I appreciate that you are all very busy men but at the end of the day we feel that we had no option but to ask to meet with you. In saying that, I am the Governor of the Apprentice Boys of Derry and have been for the last seven years. Now the Apprentice Boys of Derry is an historical organisation, built up and born through the actual fact of the history of the city of Londonderry itself, the siege in 1688 to 1689 and because of what happened at that time. The Apprentice Boys Association was formed in 1714 and has commemorated the seige of the city up to the present time. We feel that, although we are a Protestant organisation, no-one fears the existence of the Apprentice Boys, we are there solely for the one purpose, and that is, as I say, an historical organisation. Since the organisation was formed until I took over governorship, it was a sort of closed shop organisation, where whatever went on behind the closed doors of the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall or any other hall connected with the Apprentice Boys nobody outside the organisation really knew or understood what it was all about. But when I became Governor I decided that the best situation would be to have a PR exercise and let all the people of Londonderry and the whole of Northern Ireland and the whole of the British Isles get to understand what the organisation was about. Consequently, up to date, we feel that, because we have done that, the wider public, both Nationalist and Protestant, now understand exactly what the Apprentice Boys Association is all about. Before, we were considered as a triumphalist organisation. When we walked the city walls in the month of August, people said we were being triumphalist. The reason why we do that is because, just immediately after the night of the siege, when the city was freed, the people of the city who at that time were inside the city walls during the siege, walked round the walls to commemorate those who had given their lives during the siege. Just the same as people today, on 11 November, or the date nearest 11 November, would gather round all the Cenotaphs over the British Isles to commemorate those who lost their lives in the two World Wars, immediately after the walking of the walls in August we go to the Cenotaph in the Diamond, also to remember those out of our organisation who during the two World Wars gave their lives. We go to pay tribute to them and also to those who have lost their lives over the 30 years of Troubles here in Northern Ireland. We lost a great many of our Association and that is why we go to the Cenotaph in August. After we go to the Cenotaph, we then go the Church of Ireland Church, St Columb's Cathedral, where during the siege it was the only church where the people had their services. We go there for thanksgiving—we call it a Thanksgiving Service—and we go to the cathedral to have a service. Immediately after the service, we form up and, because of the large numbers on that day—we have, as I say, roughly 10,000 Apprentice Boys and we also have on parade anything between 170 and 175 bands, so you can appreciate those amount of people could not all come into the city centre at the one time—we have a parade. The significance of coming over to the city side, going through one gate of the city walls and coming out of the other gate, has the significance of the people who were there during the siege. Anything connected with our organisation is to do with the history of the city. We have, in the city, the walled city of Londonderry, which I think—and I may be a bit biased because I live there—one of the nicest walled cities in the whole world. I have been in Chester in England to see the walled city there, I have been in Limerick to see the walled city there, and nothing, absolutely nothing, compares with what we have. That is thanks not only to the Irish Society, who own the walls, but to the Department of the Environment, who look after it, and also to the amount of money that the Derry City Council has put in over the last four years. This is upgrading the city and bringing a lot of tourists in, which generates employment. I, as Governor, also state that we are now in the situation where—because the Apprentice Boys have talked to a lot of individual groups and different groups, residents from the city, businessmen, church men, everyone that we can talk to we have talked to—we feel that the city itself can generate employment out of our organisation and its pretty place. We have also made the situation where we have talked to the Parades Commission, we have talked to anybody who wants to understand what the organisation is about. There are other Loyalist organisations who have not done it, but at the end of the day I just want to make it quite clear that, although we are a Protestant organisation, we do not try to look down or deteriorate or reject anyone who has not the same outlook on life as what we have. Is that sufficient?
  (Mr Hay) I just want to follow up very quickly on what Alistair has said there. I think it is trying to remind the Committee that everything the Apprentice Boys do, everything they organise, is in the west bank of the river. The walls are there, the headquarters are there, the cathedral is there. Everything the Apprentice Boys organises is on the west bank of the river. For people to say to us, "You must take it out of the west bank of the river," people have to remember that this is just not about a parade either. Although the parade is important to us, this is about a whole culture, this is about a whole history. As soon as you remove the parade of the Apprentice Boys out of the city, and especially the west bank of the river, you remove a whole culture. The other issue that I think most people need to realise as well is that there is a small remaining Protestant community on the west bank of the river, and, as soon as you remove traditional parades from the west bank of the river, you also remove that small Protestant community, who totally and absolutely then lose confidence in living on the west bank of the river. So it is very important to say that it is just not about a parade—although the parade is important—it is about maintaining a culture in the west bank of the river, because, as Alistair has said very, very clearly, you have everything relating to the siege there, so it is important that we maintain the parade through the city centre. That is vitally important. We are not sitting here knowing that we have convinced every Nationalist that the way we parade and why we parade and how we should parade is right, because I am quite confident that out there, no matter how well we put forward a case, there are always going to be people who oppose Protestant culture, Protestant parades, irrespective of what we try and do. We are not fools. We recognise that, even in our own city. I am quite convinced that we have convinced certainly the vast majority of people that the Apprentice Boys parade is important to the city, it is an important culture, but we also recognise that, irrespective of what we do in the future or now, there is always going to be a small element of Nationalists who will continually oppose Protestant culture—continually, irrespective of what we do—and I think the Governor would be the first to say that, no matter what we do in the future, no matter how we move this whole thing forward. It is the west bank of the river that is almost 90 per cent Nationalist—and we are very conscious of that as well. I think that is a point that we make very, very strongly. I mean, I think we have put a case, I think we have put a very strong case, of why we need to maintain a Protestant culture on the west bank of the river.
  (Mr Simpson) Could I just follow up from Mr Hay? I live on the west bank of the river—I live on the Protestant estate, where there is about a 600 population there—and I happen also to be the chairman of the community association there, so that, when these parades of the Apprentice Boys are taking part, I am walking a very tight rope, because I have to have it in the back of my mind that my own community association will bear the brunt if anything goes wrong after the parade takes place. At the end of the day, I have to make sure, for the people I am living with, that everything will go peacefully.

  177. I do not want to cut the thing off but we have a number of questions to ask which we have to ask in an hour and half and we do not want to mortgage too much of the time at the beginning. Mr Hay?
  (Mr Hay) I think you were looking for some technical information on the size and structure of the organisation, which might be helpful at this point. There are 10,000 members in the Apprentice Boys: about 7,000 in Northern Ireland itself, about 2,000 in Scotland, and 1,000 in England. Those are very, very rough, loose numbers. The structure is that the General Committee is the organisational or central committee of the Apprentice Boys from which the Governor is elected. That is made up of representatives from Parent Clubs and Amalgamated Committees. The eight Parent Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry are the mother clubs, if you like, of which all Apprentice Boys in all Branch Clubs must belong to. The Amalgamated Committees are just committees within the regions or local areas. They get together to help each other organise for parade days or help each other organise social events or other events or parades within a particular area. All Apprentice Boys must be "made-up" within the walls of Londonderry and that is the responsibility again of the Parent Clubs. Particularly in December, which is perhaps a smaller parade, that is a parade for many more Apprentice Boys who are new members—they enter the Apprentice Boys at a local level but then they go to Londonderry, to be "made-up" within the walls—and that is obviously a very, very important day and an important aspect of the Apprentice Boys' culture.

Mr Grogan

  178. Good morning. Is it fair to sum up the attitude of the Apprentice Boys thus: that it is opposed in principle to the concept of a parades commission but it will abide by the law and respect the Commission's legal authority? If that is a fair summation, what particular difficulties of principle do you have with the concept of a parades commission? Because somebody has to have the power to regulate parades, and, if not the Commission, how would you suggest parades be regulated?
  (Mr Simpson) The governing body of the Apprentice Boys have always said that we would always meet with the Parades Commission. We feel that they are the legal body to take the role of parades in Northern Ireland. That does not say that we agree wholeheartedly with the decisions that they make but any decision that they make we have always said that we would keep within the law. We may not agree with them, but we would always keep within the law. As far as the Apprentice Boys are concerned, no-one in our organisation is allowed to go outside the law, it must be kept within the law. But we feel, basically—and I am being very basic here—that the Parades Commission, rather than a parades commission, has turned out to be a public order commission, which is not what they were set up for in the first place.

  179. Could you just explain the distinction in your mind?
  (Mr Simpson) The Parades Commission was set up to deal with parades and the last determination that we got for the parade in the Lower Ormeau was under the Public Order Act that they were dealing with.
  (Mr Hoey) I think the issue with the Parades Commission is that there is a pattern whereby the central reason for determinations generally being negative towards our Association is the threat of public disorder which is never coming from the Apprentice Boys of Derry. So, in terms of being "public order", there is a predetermined situation whereby any determination is almost inevitably going to come down against the Loyal Order on the basis that there is a threat of disorder from someone, and that is where that lies. If you look at the various pieces of information that we have provided, probably for the past two years now you will see that we have been consistent as well, and that is that if the Parades Commission is the legal authority it must also be a responsible authority and work itself within the law. I was rather surprised, when I sat in on the Select Committee back in May, when Mr Holland said that he would have a problem with the Parades Commission with Article 6 of the Human Rights Convention, which actually is the right to a fair hearing. Again, in some of the documents with which we have provided you, there is a legal note of exactly what that means with regard to the Commission. Certainly from the most recent experience, we would say that our members would not necessarily receive a fair hearing within a structured programme. I do not know whether that is incompetence or resistance, but, whatever it is, that is our real issue, that it must act responsibly within the law itself.

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