Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 399)



  380. Do you think there is any possibility that there might be a risk in perception of seeing the changes, implying a more direct involvement of the Commission in mediation?
  (Mr McAllister) There might be, yes, because anything that happens in the parades conflict is of interest to those who are engaged with it. On the other hand, we have our own relationships with the people on various sides and we will certainly continue to be transparent about our thinking on this matter. Obviously, we are speaking publicly here today.

Mr Beggs

  381. Who is responsible for assessing the effectiveness of The Mediation Network?
  (Mr McAllister) The way our work is organised, it is organised into a number of programmes. I was naming them at the start. There is a community programme, a churches programme, etc. Within each programme there are a number of projects. We build evaluation and assessment into those. Aside from that, the Community Relations Council commissions an independent evaluator on a three year basis to come and appraise our work. Some of the work in itself is subject to very stringent assessment, for instance, some of the work in policing where the State Department have funded our activities there and they will always send someone from the States to conduct an evaluation of what we have been doing.
  (Mr Campbell) We also have a board of management as well which holds staff to account.

  382. Besides carrying out the mediation role in relation to parades disputes, Authorised Officers also gather information about parades taking place within their assigned areas and report to the Commission. Is there any risk of a conflict of interest between these two duties in that parties may feel that the officers are getting involved in steps that may lead to determinations at the same time as they are promoting mediation?
  (Mr McAllister) Yes, there is, Mr Beggs, and again experience has taught us that. We believe that the body of Authorised Officers are people of integrity; otherwise we would not be willing to work with them. However, we appreciate that mistakes have been made at times and it is very easy to make mistakes even visibly out in the street on a parade perhaps, spending too long talking to one particular person and then being viewed by opponents of that person as maybe just too friendly with them, but these are perceptions. We realise that in practice it has been more difficult to have people feel confident in the integrity of Authorised Officers. That is why we have recommended to the Parades Commission now that they take away from the Authorised Officers the duty of monitoring parades and indeed appoint casual labour to go along to parades and monitor the parades and submit their reports to all sides so that there is a greater transparency and that will mitigate against suspicion.

  383. Do all parades disputes have essentially the same characteristics and, if so, what are they, or are there different types? If the latter, what are the various types and what are their similarities and differences respectively?
  (Mr McAllister) Again that is a question that I would like to reflect on and respond to you in writing, if you would not mind[1]. Can I say very basically though that where parades are a problem in Northern Ireland it is either in places where the relationship between members of the Unionist tradition and the members of the Nationalist tradition has broken down or where that relationship was never right. I would suggest that in Portadown for instance the relationship has never been as healthy as it needs to be or, indeed, that it has never been right, whereas on the Ormeau Road in Belfast the relationship has broken down. In some areas there was always a consensus enjoyed between the two traditions about parades. In others there never was. In some places therefore sorting the problem out involves restoring that level of agreement or tolerance or consensuality. In other areas it means establishing it for the first time.

  (Mr Campbell) A quick answer to Mr Beggs is that some parades are band parades where they are not organised by any of the Loyal Orders, and some of these band parades are fine and some of them are a problem. Other parades obviously are organised by the Loyal Orders and they become a problem because of the particular band that has been engaged for that particular parade sometimes, and sometimes not. I think it would be important to say that the Loyal Orders have taken steps in the past couple of years in respect of bad behaviour in bands, and there is still some way to go on that, but they certainly have been addressing that and that is a sign of hope.

Mr Clarke

  384. I wonder if I could start by asking you to expand on comments that you made in the memorandum in respect of reservations that both the RUC and the Northern Ireland Office officials have as to the work and operation of the Parades Commission? Could you say a little bit about what evidence you have had to suggest that those reservations were there?
  (Mr McAllister) Again I cannot speak for either of those bodies, obviously. My view is formed by my experience of working at the problem. It would therefore be my perception. I offer a perception to you rather than anything involving empirical evidence. My view would be that the parades tradition in our society has at various times over the generations been a matter of contention. Therefore, historically, in terms of public order policing, there has been a tradition and an experience gained by the police about dealing with this problem. Therefore, when the Parades Commission was formed it was a new concept, a new body, run by citizens who were new to the problem, into a situation where in the areas with the most difficult parades problems in Northern Ireland the most seasoned RUC commanders were dealing with it, people who had experience. In addition, they had a network of relationships, very often with all sides. People on various sides of the parades conflict would have had a disinclination to start dealing with, if you like, "the new kids on the block" and preferred to deal with the police either because they trusted them or because they viewed them as the devil they knew. Similarly, within the Northern Ireland Office; Governments have always been very conscious of the political significance of the parades conflict and therefore some of their most senior civil servants have taken an interest or been tasked to take an interest in this matter. Again, these are people who have had a professional interest in the matter. To put a body of citizens new to the problem alongside two groups of seasoned players was an ambitious thing to do and in my view it has taken a few years for the idea of the Commission to be properly understood and indeed for the Commission itself to begin to mature.

  385. During those years do you think those doubts and reservations have interfered with the work of the Commission or made it more difficult for the Commission to find a base because those reservations were widely known and were perhaps considered by those who were taking part in mediation?
  (Mr McAllister) Yes.

  386. I do not know if the Network has an assessment of the Northern Ireland Office review of the work of the Commission that took place just before the appointment of the latest Commissioners. Do you think that was a helpful review considering the short period in which the Commission has been operating?
  (Mr McAllister) There were a number of difficulties surrounding that review. First of all, the review came in as part of an expectation among the Orange tradition, that the review would actually produce a very significant substantial change. They were therefore disappointed when it did not and felt let down. On the Nationalist side, setting up the review had the opposite effect. It lessened confidence and destabilised things there. In the event the review affirmed the lines along which the Commission had already been established, but what it also said was that there was a need to promote greater understanding of its various functions. I would have to say that I do not think that has yet happened.

  387. Finally, taking you back to the written memorandum, within it there is a line where you state that the task of mediation is to assist citizens to restore or to create a social order within which parades are not a matter of contention. This is a long process of relationship building. Given the comments that have already been made, rightly so, about the historic baggage that there is on both sides, do you really think that that task is achievable either on a particular timescale or at all at a time when parades are a matter of contention?
  (Mr McAllister) Again I also say in this document that mediators and mediation do not solve conflicts. They make a contribution to the management or resolution of conflicts. The main people who sort out conflicts are the protagonists in the conflict. Sometimes people who are viewed as the most extreme elements are to the fore in that regard. Therefore, people should have a more realistic expectation of the role of mediators. Mediators provide assistance to it and unfortunately in the public mind there has been, through some of the, shall we say, personality mediators of the world, from Henry Kissinger to George Mitchell, a public perception that there are magical, wizard characters, people who come and wave wands and work their magic, but it does not work like that. Mediators should be performing a task but the primary tasks are being performed by those in the conflict. If I can answer your question against that background, for me to take a view that mediation is going to sort this conflict or that conflict is in a sense to adopt a pre-determined agenda. It is more important for our integrity to keep a completely open mind but we retain a conviction that at the heart of the parades problem are misunderstandings and conflicting expectations about society and we believe that one important useful task that mediators can fulfil is to enable people to improve their understandings of the others' views and to communicate with each other about their differences. If they choose to reach conclusions in terms of resolution, that must be entirely up to them.

  388. If I were trying to mediate and present an acceptable line in your memorandum, would it be better for me to put, "We look forward to a day when parades are less a matter of contention" rather than "not a matter of contention"? Would you accept that that would be a more foreseeable outcome rather than them not being a contention; to be less contentious?
  (Mr McAllister) I would not put it like that. I can imagine some people I know in the Orange tradition feeling a little bit sensitive about that kind of perspective because they would say, "They are not matters of contention really. This is a fabricated dispute." That is their view. One has to speak about these matters in ways that include the differing perspectives of what this problem is about.

Mr Hunter

  389. If you think it is a fact of life that the Parades Commission has failed to win the confidence and co-operation of the Loyal Orders, what has gone wrong? How did the situation arise?
  (Mr McAllister) I think it goes back to the creation of the Commission. The Loyal Orders gave a view to Government about what kind of body could administer the parades conflict and it was one that should address cultural differences generally in Northern Ireland, wider than simply the parading tradition, and although government appeared at the time to be prepared to set up such a body with a wide ranging remit on matters of contention around culture, in the end it came down in favour of one specifically for parades. Therefore, in my view the custodians of the parading tradition viewed the Commission as an anti-parades Commission from the start, something set up to exercise control and constriction of their tradition. They found it very difficult to trust the idea of it. Of course historically, because the Commission has at times engendered suspicion and loss of confidence on all sides, depending on its last decision, in a sense the Parades Commission is as popular with any one side as its most recent decision. If the Parades Commission decides, say, against the Nationalist tradition in one area, then the Nationalists will be sore with it for a while. Of course it is the case that the last Parades Commission and this one have in a sense ruled against the Orange Order on the matter of Drumcree and on a matter of central importance to them. It is difficult therefore for Orangemen to view the Commission as an organisation with good intent towards them. However, I believe that that simply illustrates the thankless task of a Parades Commission. I do believe that it is not so much a body that people will like or love but rather one that people will come to terms with and in time come to find a way to work with. I have to say that there is a pressing need around these three issues for which the Parades Commission is responsible for them to promote a clear public understanding of what they are about. Number one: it needs to define its view of the parades conflict in a way that all sides can say, "We can identify with that". It also needs then to try and engender enough trust out there to get the co-operation of people, in particular from the broad Unionist tradition to help promote education and understanding about the parading tradition. Of course, within that one would hope for a degree of co-operation from the Orange Order. I have to say though that because the Orange Order have boycotted the Commission from its inception it has not been able to discharge primary fundamental aspects of its work, especially around education, and it is also having so often to second-guess the mind of the Orange Order because it cannot meet directly with Orange brethren to ask them.

  390. Is not the position extremely gloomy then? How can the Parades Commission embark on its education programme in the light of what is already the baggage it is carrying with it of (in your words) offending both communities alternately?
  (Mr McAllister) There is a point on page 6 of my submission that the parades problem has a number of important dimensions to it. I believe that the Parades Commission should initiate activity within each of these dimensions. There are religious dimensions, there are political aspects to it which politicians should talk to each other about. There are public order issues which involve police. There are social economic issues which involve business people; there are primarily communal difficulties, and the parades problem is at heart a communal problem. The Parades Commission could promote greater understanding of these dimensions rather than it just being seen in a one dimensional way.

  391. Let us move on. Your memorandum implicitly criticises, and you did yourself earlier today, government inspired intervention initiatives.
  (Mr McAllister) Yes.

  392. If I understand you correctly, what you are arguing is that government has been out of step with the realities on the ground or has been driven by external difficult considerations. Can you tell me what specific initiatives you have in mind that have been unfortunate in these respects?
  (Mr McAllister) I have submitted to the secretariat here a copy of the report which I wrote for the previous Parades Commission a year ago. It sets out my views on the various Drumcree crises in that regard and the various initiatives that have been held. I have to say I totally understand why government would feel a responsibility to take a direct involvement in a matter such as the parades dispute, but I think that the evidence shows that such intervention has been ineffective. It has been ineffective principally because government does not approach this problem with the requisite perspectives or skills base of a conflict intervener. You can look at some of the initiatives that were set up that were being called mediation, and they would not in my view conform to base line requirements of professional mediators. That is because they were well intentioned but not conducted all the time or designed by mediators. In other words, a regular problem of the government led initiatives was a lack of design, a lack of preparation, what we call "case development". They were very often cobbled together very quickly at the eleventh hour at a time of crisis when each side would find it most difficult to engage the other. One of the things that they have failed to do throughout is address the sense of integrity that each side must protect if they are to go into communication with each other. All these matters require a lot of careful construction. There needs to be an agreed aim, there needs to be an agreed agenda, and the aim needs to be one that leaves both sides feeling that they can engage in this process without compromising their integrity.

  393. That presupposes they want to.
  (Mr McAllister) That is their choice, yes.

  394. You also say that the Parades Commission has been too deferential to these initiatives, and obviously Drumcree you have in mind. Are there other instances that you could point to where the Parades Commission has been too deferential to government?
  (Mr McAllister) No. It is specifically in relation to Drumcree which in a sense has defined the parades conflict to date.

  395. And you would not look, for instance, to the Apprentice Boys and their community in that context at all?
  (Mr McAllister) I do not have that in mind.

Mr Beggs

  396. The memorandum comments on the public expectation for more immediate outcomes. What risk is there that the search for quick fixes may in fact delay the emergence of a sound long term accommodation or, better still, resolution of the underlying problem?
  (Mr McAllister) Mr Beggs, in fact your observation follows logically from the encounter I have just had with your colleague, Mr Hunter. That is precisely the difficulty here, that very often in our experience we have been approaching people on either side of the parades problem who feel they have "done mediation". However, the problem is that there is a need to design conflict intervention very carefully, very thoroughly, and therefore last-minute quick fix initiatives do not allow for the necessary groundwork to be done. There is a Chinese saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. You can reverse that when it comes to mediation: a journey of a single step begins with a thousand miles, and very often steps have been taken without the miles being travelled first.

  397. At one time there was an expectation that those organising the parades or processions would be required to show evidence of training. Has there been any funding set aside by the Community Relations Council or provision made to offer to better equip and train those organising parades to avoid dispute and confrontation?
  (Mr McAllister) There are two matters of interest there. The Parades Commission has funded training for monitors, stewards, around the Apprentice Boys' parades and the Community Relations Council is currently involved with the County Down Grand Lodge of the Orange Order on a community development strategy which they are supporting. The purpose of that strategy within County Down is to identify the social functions which Orange Lodges serve in local communities and to affirm the development of those functions as part of the framework of local communities in parts of County Down.

  398. Has there been any outreach to cope with any perception that the heightened number of conflict situations which have arisen were part of another political campaign?
  (Mr McAllister) Quite obviously that is a widely held view in Northern Ireland and it is one that is of particular annoyance to people within the parading orders. Of course it makes it doubly difficult then to promote interaction between opposing sides on the ground.

Mr Robinson

  399. I would like to deal with a couple of practical issues first and then I will come to the issue more of policy and principle. In your memorandum you have referred to the Authorised Officers and your proposal seems to be that in April of this year they should be handed over and put under the control of the secretariat. How effective have they been so far? Is this in some way a recognition that maybe they have not been very effective?

  Chairman: I should intervene to say we have covered some of that already, but the question is totally apt.
  (Mr McAllister) Mr Robinson, we are very satisfied with the progress that the Authorised Officer team have made up to now. One has to recognise that they have been dealing with a situation where they are in a sense consular representatives in localities of Northern Ireland, representatives of the Parades Commission, a body which as a matter of policy within the Orange tradition Orange brethren are not meant to engage with, so they have in a sense been going along at a huge disadvantage trying to address the expression of a conflict on the ground where people feel that they cannot engage very deeply with Authorised Officers because they are identified with the Parades Commission. That has been the biggest single inhibition to the development of their work to date.

1   See also Ev p 135. Back

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