Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360 - 379)



  360. And funding?
  (Mr Campbell) We are core funded by the Community Relations Council. That is primarily for a percentage of staff salaries. We have to generate income from some of our work: some of our work drains income; some of it generates income, like the parades work or the police work, but we also charge for some other aspects of our work. We appeal to foundations and trusts and we make ends meet in that way.

  361. Very roughly the core funding from the CRC would be what sort of percentage?
  (Mr McAllister) There are I think 35 core funded groups in Northern Ireland, groups which receive core funding from the Community Relations Council with money drawn from the Westminster Exchequer, and we receive the second highest grant award of those groups, the highest being the Corrymeela Community. Last year our funding, according to the information provided by our finance officer, was £126,000.

  362. That is the CRC amount?
  (Mr McAllister) That is the CRC grant. It is about 25 per cent of our budget that is directly drawn from that grant. Aside from that I can submit a detailed list for Members if you think that would be helpful. We charge the Northern Ireland Office for our work on policing and also receive a grant from the State Department in Washington towards that work and also from the Ireland Funds. We also received grants more recently from the Rockefeller Foundation and the United States Institute of Peace. At home we charge people commercially where we can, but a lot of our work needs to be subsidised because community based activity cannot pay its way. We really rob Peter to pay Paul at times, if you will pardon that expression.
  (Mr Campbell) Often we are doing local mediation peace line disputes or neighbour disputes and our society is not ready to pay for that sort of thing so those are loss makers. That is fine. We are happy to do that because we can get money from elsewhere to subsidise that.

  363. In Mr McAllister's earlier remarks about your activities we began to get a feel for your interpretation of mediation, but would you like to give a rather fuller definition of what you think mediation to be?
  (Mr McAllister) I should say as well that I have written about mediation throughout my tenure in my job from 1992 and, looking back, historically I can see that my views on it move all the time and that we are constantly refining and nuancing what mediation should mean in our context. My current view concurs with a growing view in the European Union about what is called "social mediation". To put it in a nutshell, I would suggest to you that mediation is about assisting communication between individuals or groups in conflict first of all, in order to manage or overcome estrangement and to effect positive change. We are assuming that people become estranged from each other. They are very often in conflict with people whom they know but there are aspects to the other that they find strange and incomprehensible. We have developed a way of keeping our society stable which involves Catholic and Protestant living together, encountering a lot about each other but not accessing certain parts of each other. There are aspects of Catholics that Protestants perhaps do not quite understand and vice versa, and it is out of that area of estrangement that a lot of misunderstandings grow, that conflicting perceptions and expectations develop, and it is around those kinds of issues that we look to use mediation, to create safety for people to discuss these matters. Basically mediation is about two things: firstly, it is about helping people with particular disputes, and there what you are trying to do is to help people manage disputes or resolve them. I can say a word about that in a minute which is very pertinent to parades. Secondly, the other function of mediation is to help citizens to develop a fair and agreed social order, that there must be an "order" to people's world or context. Our view therefore is that with regard to parades the social order that needs to exist in a particular parading locality has broken down in Northern Ireland. The relationships that are necessary to maintain consensus around the parading tradition have either broken down or they were never right in the first place. Just to go back to the issue of intervention in disputes, it is sometimes thought that to enter mediation means that you are now expected to love your enemy and to give the enemy respect. We would disagree with that. Mediation, when it is done well, moves forward in mini steps and we have a saying that "it takes as long as it takes". In that respect sometimes our work is about helping people to manage their enduring enmity rather than moving quickly to an unrealistic expectation of respect.

  364. If you were drawing up a balance sheet what would you say were the limitations of the process? I have got some sense of what you think the strengths are from what you have already said but, as I have asked about liabilities, let me ask about the assets as well.
  (Mr McAllister) One of the liabilities is that the world does not easily understand what I have just said. There are a number of very reasonable agendas at work when you are talking about societal conflict. Governments have their own political needs, as do political parties, and sometimes the pace of political change is perhaps faster than the pace of societal change. When we are trying to work more on societal change there is sometimes an expectation that mediators need to move people on the ground as quickly as politicians can move and in our experience that is not the case. Another drawback is that sometimes there are other pressing issues that are perhaps more important than building new relationships among protagonists, for instance, public order. Sometimes the police are very conscious of a worsening public order situation and that can put pressure on people trying to promote reconciliation, a pressure in that there may be very good legitimate reasons for police wanting to see an end to a conflict situation or a stabilisation to take place, but it might take a long time to create that. People are moving at different paces with different expectations.

  365. At the risk of being unduly semantic, in what way would mediation differentiate from either facilitation or negotiation?
  (Mr McAllister) It would be important to give you in a sense a topology of conflict intervention methods here if you do not mind. First of all, the basic one, that most human beings engage in on a daily basis is "negotiation". It is just part of the fabric of life. In negotiation, however, the person who comes out of it best is the one who can make the best argument or gather the most power and the less powerful people usually come out of negotiation worst. That creates a sense of grievance which does not necessarily stabilise conflict, but most of the time it does work sufficiently for matters to be sorted and most of it is informal. Another form of conflict intervention is "conciliation". In conciliation the third party, the mediator type, is working with one side without an expressed commitment to work at the same time with the other side. In that contact the conciliator is trying to encourage in this side more inclusive thinking. It has often been said that we are an entrenched society, so our people are used to living, as it were, in mental trenches, and indeed in many cases demographically many people live apart as well. One is trying to bring a sense of "the other side" into discussions with one side at a time to enable them better to understand their opponent. A conciliator therefore is simply trying to do that in a gentle way without creating a pressure on either side to send each other messages or communicate with each other. "Mediation", however, involves an express intention to facilitate communication between opposing sides. There are many sub forms of mediation, however, and some of these have been attempted in the parades dispute. The best known and most obvious one is what is called the North American model and that is face to face mediation. In our culture I would contend that people do not easily come face to face when they are in conflict and they prefer to deal with things indirectly, so there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing—what is sometimes called shuttle mediation, which we also call inter-mediation. Beyond mediation there is "adjudication" and that is where people cannot agree on something. They make a case to a third party and that party decides for them. In a sense the North report recommended that kind of process and it was then implicitly adopted in the workings of the Parades Commission. That would be a point of interest perhaps to your Committee, that the differences between these functions have become unhelpfully blurred but the basic expectation of North was that either a parade has consensus around it or it is contentious. If it is contentious can the people who want to parade and those who are against them sort it out? If they cannot, can they receive help from a third party, in other words a mediator? If that does not work then the matter must be adjudicated on. That is the basic thinking around North.

Mr Barnes

  366. The statutory role of the Parades Commission talks about it needing to promote and facilitate mediation as a means of resolving disputes. You have just given us your own definition of mediation and explanations of its operations and distinctions between specific disputes and agreed social orders, for instance, as something that you have conducted within it. How far do you see the Parades Commission as sharing some of your horizons about what it is that mediation is and where it is applicable, or are some of the things you said in terms of the definition that apply to the Parades Commission and some that do not?
  (Mr McAllister) It is fair to observe that we are now historically speaking about two Parades Commissions. The first Parades Commission, during its tenure, refined its understanding of the problem. It developed a civic vision, if you like, about parades which was not very popular but it applied that vision to all of its decisions and thinking. That was basically in agreement with our kind of perspective around how conflict gets sorted out. In the perspective of a mediator, conflict gets sorted out when people who are in conflict address their relationship. The new Parades Commission is at an earlier phase of development. Of course it is building on the work of its predecessor but they have yet to form their mature views, if you like, which come about after a period in office. They are only entering into their second year so I can say that, looking backwards, the previous Parades Commission would have accepted a lot of our analysis about how mediation can work in a parades dispute. The new Parades Commission we have given this kind of advice to as well; we have shared these perspectives with them, but I am not in a position to say yet what conclusions they will draw from receiving that advice.

  367. There is sometimes a distinction between theory and practice. You are saying that the first Parades Commission, at least in theory, came towards something quite similar to your understanding of the situation. It might not yet have been spelt out in the present Commission but do you feel that the practices that are involved in it, the continuing tradition in the new Parades Commission, are in line with what your thinking is?
  (Mr McAllister) I think that they are certainly endeavouring to apply themselves to these matters. However, I think that they have inherited a difficulty and that is that there is insufficient demarcation between the three major functions of the Parades Commission in the public mind. The first of those functions is education about the parades traditions (and we have more than one parades tradition). The second is to encourage the activity of mediation, and the third is to adjudicate where there is no agreement. Because the Parades Commission has become best known in the public mind as an adjudication body then its interest in the other two matters is given less attention. In a sense, in theory it makes sense to have a body that has an interest in those three issues, but in practice I think it is fair to say that there is a kind of conflict of interest in that regard.
  (Mr Campbell) It is also, Mr Barnes, very difficult for lay people to be brought in. We kind of "live" this work and it becomes our everyday work. These are people coming in for one and a half or two days a week. They came in just this time last year, I think in February, and were plunged right into the situation with the timing of the first parade on St Patrick's Day, so it was a big learning curve. I suppose that is one of our concerns, that there was only one of the old Commission who stayed on and the continuity gets broken and there has to be a whole new learning curve. It does not contribute to the growing body of learning that there should be.

  368. I detect that you feel there have been some difficulties. How much involvement has your Network had with the Parades Commission over its development of policy in relation to mediation?
  (Mr McAllister) Our involvement in the parades conflict needs to be understood around three matters. First of all, we have been active in the parades conflict since 1995, before the creation of a Parades Commission, and we are still involved in a practice (as mediators) which tries to address problems around parades on the ground independently of the Parades Commission, in our own right. Our involvement with the Commission has centred on two things: first of all, recruiting, training and supporting the team of field officers known as "Authorised Officers" who are meant to develop as practitioners in the localities where there are disputes around parades. So we have been trying to help that body form, train and mature. The third issue is around giving advice to the Commission. In that respect this goes back to what we have just been saying, that we gave a lot of advice to the first Commission in helping it come to an understanding of mediation and its potential in the parades dispute. We have less contact with the new Commission but we do on a regular basis give our view about what mediation can do in a parades dispute to the Chairman and also to the head of the secretariat.

  369. Obviously you have got experience and strongly worked out views about mediation, and I think you would like to see those maybe being reflected a bit more by the Parades Commission.
  (Mr McAllister) Yes.

  370. What do you see as a way ahead in order to achieve that? It might be that in working with Authorised Officers and others on other activities the mediation aspect begins to come forward a bit more. Do you just feel that you need greater access to the Parades Commission in order to discuss those matters?
  (Mr McAllister) No, because we do not have a problem with access. If we wanted a meeting with the Commission we could have a meeting with them. We are in contact with them. There is an integrity issue for us in this regard because there is a subtlety involved in having a specific function of giving advice about mediation. It would be our experience that some people involved in the parades conflict would confuse our role and in some way think that we have an executive authority of some kind. In order to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest we have to keep our contact with the Parades Commission precise and specific and limit it to the function of mediation.

  371. Maybe we need some practical cases and problems. I do not know whether it is Drumcree or wherever. How effective has the Parades Commission been since its inception in promoting mediation as a means of resolving disputes?
  (Mr McAllister) It would be important here, Mr Barnes, to go back to the functions of mediation which I spoke about at the start, that on the one hand mediation works well when people are ready to use it to manage or overcome or resolve a dispute. It also works well when people are willing to use it to address the wider social context within which the dispute arises, which I call here "the social order". Most of what mediation has done with regard to the parades conflict has been to address the social order. A lot of work has gone into establishing relationships, building trust, learning about conflict with people and hearing their perspectives and being taught by them, and also encouraging forums to develop in the community and the best established forum is currently being run by Newry and Mourne District Council. It involves people from the Orange and Nationalist traditions and the Unionist tradition engaging with each other as citizens. People are meeting as citizens even though they take very different views on the parades dispute. We have concentrated on creating a safe space. It is not confidential, what I am saying. It is simply not public. It is not secret; it is simply a private space for people to come together and talk as citizens, as independent individuals. Each of these people comes from various sides of the parades conflict. We are now involved in a similar piece of work in Ballymoney Borough Council at the invitation of the Mayor. We have explored the idea of forums in other parts of Northern Ireland but they are difficult to establish because people are so afraid of compromising their integrity in some way by engaging with opponents, so it takes quite a long while to establish that. In summation, specifically we are promoting the idea of forums. Secondly, we have been involved in the building of relationships among people who are relevant to the parades conflict in particular areas, and thirdly, we have actually intervened in certain disputes. We were involved in Drumcree in 1995 and we have been involved in Dunloy in 1996 and 1997, and in Newry in 1998 and 2000, and various other parts of Northern Ireland. It may be that I am getting your question wrong. You are specifically interested in the Parades Commission's activities, so forgive me for that. That is a point I have made in my written submission. The Parades Commission historically has deferred to government-led initiatives with regard to mediation throughout its history to date.

  372. So has it used the techniques you were talking about, the mechanisms by which you approach it? Has the Parades Commission made much use of any of those, or is this an entirely different way of operating?
  (Mr McAllister) No, not really. They have made use of our perspectives on the conflict as a way of helping them learn about it. They have made use therefore indirectly of the relationships which we have built up with people on opposing sides, and that hopefully in time refines their own understanding of the complex problem they are trying to manage. In terms of mediation initiatives around particular parades disputes, they have deferred to government.

  373. Are there any particular mechanisms that you feel are very useful in the work that you have been engaged in that you would recommend the Commission adopting which they are missing out on by deferring to government approaches and attitudes about the problems and where they could take an initiative in certain areas?
  (Mr McAllister) Yes. Again, I refer to this in my written submission. One of the things that mediators do when conflict becomes stuck is to "re-frame" the conflict, the problems: describe the problems in a new way that perhaps creates new perspectives and new avenues of thought. The Parades Commission could re-frame the parades conflict. Many people think the Parades Commission exists for Drumcree. Drumcree is the most significant parades dispute in Northern Ireland and it is certainly central to the wider parades conflict, but there is a wider societal conflict about the parading traditions. The Parades Commission has a responsibility for that. It could perhaps establish a clearer understanding in the public mind. That indeed is its basic interest, that it is not just taken up with one parades dispute. Also, they could, as I said, create clearer demarcation around their various functions, around education, around the activity of mediation, and also around adjudication. I do believe that in theory it is a fine thing for the Parades Commission to have a responsibility for making mediation happen, but in practice I think it has become difficult because the various sides in Northern Ireland are very often afraid to enter mediation on the parades dispute because there is some kind of inference that if the mediation process happens and ends without agreement, and the Parades Commission then take on board that mediation process when making a decision, and if the Parades Commission find in favour of one side based on how it has handled itself in the mediation process, then the losing side would view mediation as no longer credible. They would view it as a form of entrapment. The difficulty you have in the parades conflict is that we go from one year to another and some people may approach a problem this year in a short-term way and do things that actually for now sort something out but they actually do not improve the conditions for a longer term resolution. I have come to a view that it should nearly be a practice guideline, a commonly and widely understood one, that the role of mediation in the parades conflict should not involve the search for agreement about particular parades disputes. In other words, mediation can help people who are at odds with each other to engage with each other without prejudicing their contradictory stance on a parade. If mediation does its work well it will create sufficient confidence, trust, respect and a proper context within which they might decide to enter a quite separate process of negotiation or conciliation about reaching particular agreements.

Mr Grogan

  374. Mr Barnes has elicited some of the information that I was trying to elicit but, to follow on from Mr Barnes, are you really saying that your current thinking is that mediation should be of a general nature and that the Parades Commission in the future should not ask you or anybody else who is expert in the field, "We have got a parade in three or four weeks' time. Let us try a bit of mediation"? Is that what you are saying, that that might have been the thinking in the past but you would now not recommend that?
  (Mr McAllister) Yes. If you read the report that I wrote for the previous Parades Commission on Drumcree you will see that an observation I make is that people view mediation with great suspicion. It depends on who appears to have asked for it. If one side appears to be on board with the idea of a mediation initiative before the other, then the second side will be suspicious as to why. Therefore, the conditions of the parades conflict make it very difficult to practise mediation if it is seen to be something that is part of an unspoken agenda, a hidden agenda of some kind that sometimes both sides view as sinister because there is so much suspicion around. All I am saying is that it is right and proper that the Parades Commission should have a responsibility to try to make mediation happen. It should clearly be understood by the general public though that the Parades Commission should not itself mediate. There has been a problem with expectations around some of the Commissioners in that regard because they have a background in conflict intervention, but I think there is a conflict of interest between someone who has an adjudicatory and education role on the one hand and mediation on the other, which is quite separate. It is clear in my mind that the legislation and its intention is clear in that; that the Police Authority members, for instance, are not responsible to go out on the street and police but they have a responsibility to make sure that policing happens, and it is the same with the Parades Commission.

  375. Do you worry from your own point of view that if you get too involved with the Parades Commission people might get a blurred idea of what you do and see you as an adjunct to it?
  (Mr McAllister) Yes.

  376. And that might weaken some of your other activities which I will ask you to go through again?
  (Mr McAllister) Absolutely. This is part of what we call trench work. Because we are always trying to go into the trenches of opposing sides, when you come back from one trench into another you have the "scent of the enemy" about you. People have looked through their binoculars and have seen you consorting there, so it is very difficult to avoid suspicion.

  377. It was not entirely clear to me whether you thought the first Parades Commission or the second one was better at facilitating mediation and whether they had done it. You implied that they had done it in a slightly different way but I was not clear which you thought had done it better, and how their methods differed.
  (Mr McAllister) I appreciate that the way that I couched my remarks may have inferred that, but I really do not wish to give that impression. I am simply saying that the first Parades Commission took a body of citizens with no prior experience for the most part of the parades conflict and during their tenure they learned about it so that by the end of their time they were more on top of their brief than at the start. The new Parades Commission goes through the same process. It takes a new body of citizens, almost all of whom are new to the parades issue, and they too have to take time to master their brief and learn the ins and outs of the problem.


  378. I want to change gear slightly. How has responsibility for Authorised Officers been divided hitherto between the Network and the Commission?
  (Mr Campbell) We have taken responsibility in the past, Chairman, for recruiting those Authorised Officers, for ongoing training of them and for supervision of them. They are deployed in twos around the Province. They are divided across in all six counties, primarily Catholic and Protestant as far as possible working together when we can get that recruitment right, and male and female as far as possible working together. From 1 April this coming year, we will hand over that responsibility of supervision and indeed payment to the Parades Commission itself. We feel that that will aid the education process among the Commissioners and among the secretariat of the Commission.

Mr Pound

  379. Can I ask why responsibility for Authorised Officers is to transfer to the Parades Commission on 1 April 2001 and why did the Network propose this course of action?
  (Mr McAllister) For three reasons, Mr Pound. First of all, the Authorised Officer team is now established for three years. We feel that we have, if you like, mentored their evolution and that they now need to be given the space to get on with it on the ground and, if you like, look less to us for advice and support. Secondly, we think that the efficiency and understanding or sensitivity of the Parades Commission will be improved if there is a more immediate contact between the field officers and the secretariat, that the kind of advice that they will get directly will improve, and so we think it will be a more efficient arrangement. Thirdly, a difficulty for us is that we have other things to do and we cannot simply give the parades problem the same amount of time year on year. We are trying to stay in touch with the problem. We are open to our own practice but we think that our involvement with the Authorised Officers can be reduced now because they are at a stage where they can get on with the work.
  (Mr Campbell) The Parades Commission annual report has a large sum of money against mediation and in fact The Mediation Network, most of which comes in through our books and out to the Authorised Officers. We think that that is bad for the Commission and also bad for our organisation. We are handing over that responsibility of paying those Authorised Officers directly to the Commission.

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