Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memoranda submitted by the Northern Ireland Office



  1.  This paper provides guidance on the establishment and operation of the Parades Commission for Northern Ireland.


  2.  In August 1996 a team comprising the Very Reverend John Dunlop, Father Oliver Crilly and Dr Peter North (Chair) was appointed by the then Secretary of State, Sir Patrick Mayhew. Its remit was to review the arrangements for handling public processions, open-air public meetings and associated public order issues, and to make recommendations for the future conduct and regulation of those matters.

  3.  The team reported in January 1997. A copy of that report (the North Report) and the executive summary are attached[1]. At that time, decisions in relation to parades and marches rested with the Chief Constable and were based upon the provisions of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. The review team took the view that a focus solely on the public order consequences of parades, while ignoring the right to peaceful assembly and the rights of those in the areas through which the parades passed and those of the wider community, was inappropriate. Further, the team considered it undesirable that the police should be seen both to make the decision on whether conditions should be imposed, and then to enforce the outcome.

  4.  Accordingly, the team set out, in Chapter 12 of the report, the case for an independent body which would take views from interested parties, encourage local agreement and, where that was not forthcoming, come to a view on what, if any, conditions should be imposed on contentious parades. The team proposed that the body be called the Parades Commission, and went on to set out its remit and composition, and the revised legislative framework within which it should operate.


  5.  The Parades Commission was established on 27 March 1997 with a Chairman and four members as recommended in the North Report. However, it did not assume its full powers, including its adjudicative role, until the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (the Act), a copy of which is enclosed, came into force on 16 February 1998. In view of the workload anticipated once the Commission assumed its full statutory functions and at the recommendation of the Chairman, the Act provided for the Commission to have six members.

  6.  Section 2 of the Act defines the duty of the Commission as follows:

    (a)  to promote greater understanding by the general public of issues concerning public processions;

    (b)  to promote and facilitate mediation as a means of resolving disputes concerning public processions;

    (c)  to keep itself generally informed as to the conduct of public processions and protest meetings; and

    (d)  to keep under review, and to make such recommendations as it thinks fit to the Secretary of State concerning, the operation of the Act.

  7.  Sections 3 to 5 of the Act, pursuant to recommendations contained in chapter 13 of the North Report, require the Commission to issue:

    (a)  a Code of Conduct providing guidance to persons organising, and regulating the conduct of persons organising or taking part in, a public procession or protest meeting;

    (b)  a set of Procedural Rules, explaining how the Commission will exercise its functions under section 2(2) of the Act, namely facilitating mediation and issuing determinations; and

    (c)  a set of Guidelines as to the exercise of the Commission's powers under section 8 of the Act, namely the imposition of conditions upon a public procession.

  In accordance with section 16 of and Schedule 2 to the Act, these documents, and any amendments to them, are laid before Parliament in draft and are given effect by orders made by the Secretary of State and subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Copies of the most recent editions of the three documents are enclosed[2].

  8.  Sections 6 and 7 of the Act require that advance notice be given of public processions and related protest meetings in such form as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State. The forms currently in use are set out in the Schedule to the Public Order (Prescribed Forms) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000, a copy of which is enclosed.

  9.  Paragraph 13 of Schedule 1 to the Act requires that the Commission issue an annual report, co-incident with the financial year, on the discharge of its functions in that year. The Commission's first such report, covering the first year of its full statutory powers, was published in April last year. The report sets out the Commission's background and remit, describes the process it goes through and the factors it takes into consideration in deciding whether or not to issue determinations, and gives a brief account of the Commission's experience of each area in which parades take place. Copies of this report will be provided by the Parades Commission along with its submission to the Committee.

1   Not reported. Back

2   Not reported. Back

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