Memorandum from the Rt Hon David Trimble
When HMG first proposed the establishment of
a Parades Commission, I and the Ulster Unionist Party advised
against it. My view then, and reinforced now after witnessing
the Parades Commission in operation for nearly four years, is
that it was an exercise in Government abandoning its responsibility
for maintaining law and order. Under the legislation Government
transferred important powers to the Commission and did so in terms
that favoured anti-parades objectors and in a manner which prevented
Government taking action itself in the event of things going wrong.
The establishment of the Parades Commission was a concession to
the threat of violent protest. It created a grievance factory
for politically motivated residents' groups and has led, in areas
where such groups have been targeted, to an atmosphere of intolerance
and appeasement of the greater threat.
The Parades Commission has singularly failed to be
representative of the general community in Northern Ireland. The
first Commission contained only token representation of the unionist
community with little representation of the tradition of the marching
Orders. Sadly, the review and recruitment of the second Commission
saw no improvement.
My experience of the work of the Parades Commission
has been dominated by my involvement in seeking to resolve the
Drumcree situation. As Member of Parliament and Assembly Member
for Upper Bann, and latterly as First Minister, I have actively
promoted initiatives and participated in initiatives to resolve
this difficult issue. I will be happy to detail those initiatives
for the benefit of the Committee.
Regrettably, I had to conclude, in the Summer
of 1999, that despite intensive efforts by Portadown District
LOL No 1, encouraged by myself and my office, that Portadown District
would never receive a fair hearing from the Parades Commission.
I believe this view was increasingly being shared by HMG, and
accordingly I secured a commitment to review the workings of the
It is a matter of regret that those in charge
of the Review did not use the opportunity to make such change
to the Commission's operation as to lead to it becoming acceptable
to the entire community, and that it failed to amend the Act to
reflect the right to assemble and process peacefully.
I have continued my efforts in respect to Drumcree
and have fully liaised and engaged with the new Commission. I
regret that they continue to make the same mistakes as their predecessors.
I firmly believe that the Commission operates in effect with a
prejudice against the Loyal Orders in general and Portadown District
LOL No 1 in particular. This is partly because the legal framework
is wrong. The parading problems will not be resolved for as long
as the Commission continues to provide a parading veto for residents'
groups who threaten violence.
I welcome this Committee's interest in the Parades
Commission and hope that it might prepare a report that will lead
to fundamental change.
1 February 2001