Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 447 - 459)




  447. I cannot tell from the seating whether you are taking a central role as you are geographically or where you are in terms of the ordering of your group. You can tell us in a moment. A very warm welcome to you Mr Lamberton, Mr MacNiallais and Mr Percival. I do not know whether you have read a previous transcript of an occasion when we have taken evidence. We operate on only a couple of ground rules. The first is that we will endeavour to make the questions follow along in order. They will not necessarily come from us in a consecutive position round the table. Secondly, you should feel entirely free to gloss any answer you give orally now or in writing afterwards if it occurs to you you want to make sure that we have fully understood it. Equally when we have had a chance of reading the transcript we might want to come back to you with a written supplementary on something, on reflection, we were unable to understand. You are most welcome. We are particularly grateful to you for coming because we have been concerned in the terms of this inquiry to the get the widest possible spectrum of evidence from different bodies within the community. We were slightly disappointed that not all bodies wanted to come. We are very appreciative and very grateful to you. I do not know whether you would like to say anything of a preparatory nature, introductory nature before we start, obviously in support of what you have already said to us in written form.

  (Mr Mac Niallais) A Chathaoirligh, go raibh maith agat as an deis labhairt libh inniu. Tá súil againn go bhfuilimid in ann ceisteanna ar bith ata ag an Choiste a fhreagairt. `Sí tuairim an BRG nach dtiocfaifh réitach ar an ábhar seachas tré phróiseas ceart cainteanna a bhfuil gach páirti sa chonspóid bainte leis. Chairperson, thank you for your invitation to address the members. I hope we are able to answer any questions you may have to the satisfaction of the Committee. It is the position of the BRG that any resolution of this issue will only come about through a meaningful process of dialogue involving all parties to the dispute. We have already, as you stated, made a written submission, on which we hope you can form your own opinions on how we see the Parades Commission and the marching issue in general. Suffice it to say by way of introduction that we believe that the Parades Commission should at all times seek to arrive at a resolution of this issue which may, in our opinion, take a number of years but this should be encouraged and be a process which can make an accommodation and not seek to have a sticking plaster imposed on the issue based on what is the most politically correct stance to take at a particular moment in time. That is our position by way of introduction. You have copies of our submission, feel free to put any questions to us. We may respond in turn to particular questions or if somebody has a particular opinion then they will come in on it as well.

  448. Thank you very much, indeed. Has the creation of the Parades Commission as an institution made it easier or more difficult to seek to reach accommodation in relation to controversial processions?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) In our opinion the creation of the Parades Commission is an improvement on what went before, where the RUC visibly made the decision on whether a march should go ahead or not based on what they described as public order criteria. We all know about the situation which pertained in 1996 when, in particular, the people of Garvaghy Road, and right across the North, were more or less held to ransom by the Orange Order and their supporters in an effort to have the parade forced down the Garvaghy Road. The situation since then has been that the Parades Commission have drawn up criteria with conditions on the parades but, more importantly, the Parades Commission encourages groups to enter into a process of dialogue or mediation and we think that should continue. We are very conscious of the fact that many people within the Unionist community do not see the Parades Commission as acting in that particular light. It has been drawn to everyone's attention by the Parades Commission that there are over 3,000 marches per year, last year they made determinations in about 148 of those parades, and over 48 of those were related to Portadown alone. The percentage is something between four and five per cent they have had to make determinations on. I think that the Unionist community, and the Loyal Orders in particular, really need to approach this issue of resolving the parades on the basis of respect and equality, with support such as the Parades Commission I think that would go a long way towards accommodation.
  (Mr Percival) Mr Chairman, I am Robin Percival, I am the Secretary of the Bogside Residents' Group. Our experience of the Parades Commission is, I suppose, a mixture. We have found in our dealings with the Apprentice Boys Association particularly, for example, in August 1997 and August 1998 that their intervention was constructive and helpful. I think the work of their officers in particular helped to create a situation where we could reach an accommodation, albeit an imperfect one, with the Apprentice Boys Association in regard to the Derry parade. I do have to say that in the August 1999 parade—I sometimes get my parades confused—certainly if my memory serves me correctly it was the August 1999 one that the Parades Commission I think adopted a very unhelpful attitude, particularly in relation to the feeder parade that was being organised down the Lower Ormeau Road. We had always made it very clear that in our view the parade in Derry, the main Apprentice Boys parade on 12 August or round 12 August, that we could only facilitate that on the basis that there were no contentious parades else where within the North. In fact the Parades Commission seemed to accept that up until August 1999 when they did allow a feeder parade down the Lower Ormeau Road. As a consequence we were unable to agree to the main parade in Derry and as a result the RUC closed the city down. In that situation we found the Parades Commission intervention was, to put it mildly, very unhelpful, because we felt that what was happening was a situation whereby the Apprentice Boys were being told that if they went through certain appearances of attempting to be involved in some kind of dialogue with the Lower Ormeau residents and with ourselves they would get a parade. We made the point to the Parades Commission, we made it both to the old Parades Commission and the new one, that what they should not do is set up a scenario whereby people are attempting to play to them as a decision-making body rather than actually meeting and dealing with the issues that concern the groups concerned. That did not happen in August 1999, in our view.
  (Mr Mac Niallais) If I can add to that, just to emphasise the point that Robin is making. If either ourselves or the Loyal Orders approached this issue from the point of view of having a favourable Parades Commission determination then that does not help to resolve the issue. That is the general point we are looking at. If we involve ourselves in a process in order just to get a Parades Commission determination in our favour we are not acting in good faith and the Parades Commission should ensure that both residents groups and the Loyal Orders should act in good faith at all times and attempt to arrive at a combination with those either in favour of marches or opposed to them in some way.

  449. I want to make certain that I have understood what is being said to us, in this respect I go back to my original question, when you say you think in principle it has been easier to reach accommodation, although Mr Percival said that in other cases you have been less satisfactory, are you saying that because you think the Parades Commission is a better vehicle for conducting that accommodation than the RUC were or are you saying that the climate has changed and, to play back your own phrase, "The Apprentice Boys have been themselves constructed as a result of the new regime"?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) I think the RUC were a disaster in terms of their involvement in whether or not a parade went ahead or did not go ahead. We clearly saw the sectarian nature of the RUC, both in terms of their decisions and how they policed those decisions in areas like the Garvaghy Road, Ormeau Road and also in Derry in 1995. The fact that the Parades Commission was there, the fact that it has criteria that people can examine and consider, and the fact that they encourage a process of dialogue is a massive improvement on what went before.

Mr Thompson

  450. Good afternoon, gentlemen, what assessment have you made of the success, or otherwise, of the Commission in promoting greater understanding by the general public of issues concerning public processions?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) We have no detailed assessment in relation to that. We do know that the Parades Commission have on occasion encouraged organisations, particularly the marching orders, to actually consider ways in which they could engage with people in terms of explaining or demonstrating what their organisations are about and what the marching orders are about. I do not think it is a crucial element of the Parades Commission's remit and I do not think it is one that the Parades Commission give due emphasis to. In some ways that is understandable, particularly during the summer season they can be very busy in other ways. I do not know whether it is a useful remit for them that they have that. I do not see anything problematic with it. If they need to concentrate on encouraging a resolution of the disputes where they occur and as a secondary issue they carry out that type of work then that is fair enough with us, we do not have a problem with that.

  451. I gather from your submission you were not terribly keen on the Apprentice Boys of Derry, you regard them as sectarian. However, in a modern society do they not have the right to celebrate their history and culture in peace with due tolerance and without protest?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) You will see in our submission that we outline the political and sectarian nature of the Apprentice Boys over many years. I think you will also see from our submission that we have acknowledged the strength that the Apprentice Boys have over this past number of years. I think a lot of that is due to pressure from organisations like ourselves and community and political and business leaders and church leaders as well. We have acknowledged the steps that the Apprentice Boys have taken. We have encouraged the Apprentice Boys to organise activities other than marching and they, to their credit, have done that. I can think in all cases we have been open. We have been saying that marching orders need to change, they need to come into the 21st century. We think that Apprentice Boys are doing that. We want to arrive at a situation where their commemoration of the Siege of Derry takes place in what we call an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance. For our part, and on the part of the majority of people in our community, that has been the case. The Commission will probably be aware of the fact that there are a considerable number of activities in Derry City and very few of them give rise to great controversy. Those that do give rise to controversy, such as the Derry celebrations in August and the Shutting of the Gates in December, it is not about the marching through Derry City centre, it is about the disruption, it is about the behaviour of bands, it is about what can happen to people who live in the local area. All in all, I think that our role in all of this has been quite open. We have listened to what the Apprentice Boy's spokesperson has said and we hope that they have been listening to what we have been saying. I think we are moving towards a situation that is desirable for all of us, that commemoration of this type take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Unfortunately we do not see that sign, mutual respect, in terms of coming back to nationalist areas like Portadown and Lower Ormeau.
  (Mr Percival) I just wanted, really, to underline a couple of the points that Donncha made. We draw a distinction between the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys. Whether or not the Apprentice Boys Association is a sectarian organisation probably is a matter of opinion. We do acknowledge that they have, particularly in recent years, attempted to, if you like, strengthen their cultural activities and to minimise their political activities. As a residents group we have always accepted the principle that the Apprentice Boys have a right to parade in the city centre of Derry. When we met with the Apprentice Boys, initially John Hume, then later independently with facilitators, we acknowledged the rights of local Apprentice Boys to parade around the city walls. We have encouraged our supporters, if I can put it like that, to be proactive with the attempts by the Apprentice Boys to, if you like, put on cultural events. I think the first time the Apprentice Boys Association put on a pageant associated with August 12 parade, Donncha and myself were very publicly, visibly there to watch it and do so without any threat or sense of confrontation. As Donncha says, most of our, if you like, engagement with the Apprentice Boys is on practical issues. In some case they have listened to what we have said. For example, they agreed not to fly the Union Jack over the Bogside on August 12 parade. That may be a small, but nevertheless an important concession on their part to nationalist sensitivities. They agreed not to play what might be regarded as party tunes in those parts of the wall which run through the Bogside and are very close to the Bogside. There has been, I think, an attempt by the Apprentice Boys to engage with us. In our view we would like them to go much further, I will be honest about that. In terms of particularly the Lundy's Day Parade, which is in December, we would certainly like to see them go further. Having said that, we have always acknowledged that there has been serious engagement between ourselves and the Apprentice Boys and that has been to the mutual benefit of all. That sharply contrasts with the Orange Order.

  452. Is it not a fact that your position of not protesting is determined by the fact that the Apprentice Boys do not go down the Ormeau Road?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) Our position in relation to the Ormeau Road and other parades is this. The Apprentice Boys, in the initial stages of negotiations with ourselves, a way back in August 1996, stated quite clearly to us that they existed to commemorate the Siege of Derry. We quite clearly stated to them, "If you were wish to commemorate the Siege of Derry then why have a march along the Ormeau Road; what has a march along the Ormeau Road got to do with the Siege of Derry?" We made it quite clear that we would assist in the peaceful, non-triumphant commemoration of the Siege of Derry by the Apprentice Boys Association but we could not be party to an accommodation whereby a parade—we did not understand the connection between it and Derry—could go through an area like the Ormeau Road. What we are trying to do is arrive at a situation where the commemoration of the Siege of Derry takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect, tolerance and peace. I think we have been quite honest and up front. It has been our consistent position since 1996. We are not comfortable with the situation which occurred in July of that year, when the Orange Order in order to have their parade forced on the Garvaghy Road, blocked roads, blocked the Royal Harbour, blocked the International Airport, blocked Craigavon Bridge in Derry. The people in Derry were saying, "This is a dispute with the Orange Order and the local residents in Portadown 70 miles away and yet Craigavon Bridge is being blocked here". We are coming at this from a very consistent position, we are saying that the nationalist majority in Derry are prepared to tolerate these parades, even though we still have a major problem therewith. We would like to see the same in areas like Portadown and Lower Ormeau.

  453. What assessment have you made of the success, or otherwise, of the Commission in (1) promoting and (2) facilitating mediation as a means of resolving disputes concerning public processions?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) We have dealt with some of this already. We actually saw some of the mediation efforts of the Parades Commission, in the Derry context it has been quite progressive and quite helpful. This in particular would look at 1998, where the Parades Commission were very good in terms of the work that they did with us in terms of laying out what they saw as the process and ensuring that we understood exactly what process was involved and that Apprentice Boys understood what was involved. They held both sides closer together, they arrived at what was not exactly a perfect solution but was a Derry solution to a Derry problem. In 1999 we feel that the Parades Commission efforts, the encouragement and development of that accommodation of 1998 was a total disaster. We felt that the Parades Commission in that year actually scuppered most of the good work that had been done in 1998. I think for the majority of ourselves and the Apprentice Boys it could have actually destroyed the process altogether. I am pleased to say that the situation since that has improved somewhat. There is still a lot of work to be done to arrive at an overall accommodation. I hope that the Parades Commission will continue to encourage and to facilitate movement towards resolution rather than trying to put the clock back to 1999, or even further back.
  (Mr Percival) Can I just say with regard to the mediation, on a factual level, in terms of our engagement with the Apprentice Boys, in a sense we had three sets of mediation, the first one was with John Hume, which lead to a face-to-face meeting with the Apprentice Boys in the cells, the second, which is what Donncha has been talking about, which really lasted until 1998, was with the designated officers of the Parades Commission. That did not lead to any face-to-face meetings but it did lead to exchanges of messages. In fact I remember we were up all night one night as messages went from the Apprentice Boys' hall to our place in the Bogside. Certainly the Authorised Officers of the Parades Commission were extremely helpful in facilitating that accommodation. Since 1999 there have been two businessmen under the auspices of the city centre management who have been acting as the brokers. The Parades Commission has had the good sense to step back and allow that process to take place. I think overall our experience of their mediation role has been a positive one.

Mr Hunter

  454. Chairman, if I may, I would like to go back to the points that Mr Percival primarily was making about the Lower Ormeau Road. We have asked previous witness, not today as it happens, their views on the concept of linkage, that is to say of the Parades Commission's determination, saying that on one weekend parade A can happen to please the unionists and parade B cannot to please the nationalists. Am I right in interpreting your comment as you are in favour of linkage of that direct nature?
  (Mr Percival) We are certainly in favour of it in regard to the Apprentice Boys parades around the commemoration of the events in Derry. There is a direct linkage, which is these are parades which are organised under the auspices of the Apprentice Boys Association. There is a second linkage, which is the one in the Lower Ormeau Road, the one where there has been controversy. There are other contentious parades, but they have not taken place, like in Dunboyne Dunloy, for example. The justification for that parade on 12 August is that they are parading in order to get a bus to come to Derry. There is quite clearly a direct linkage between the parades down the Lower Ormeau Road and the main parade in Derry City. Therefore, I think it is not surprising that we should, as a residents group, say to both the Parades Commission and, indeed, the Apprentice Boys that in our view there is a direct linkage. It is not an unreasonable linkage for us to say, we will facilitate your parade in Derry, and by facilitating that has meant in the past actually helping to keep order in the city while the parade is taking place. It is not unreasonable for us to say, we will facilitate the main parade in Derry, which is, after all, the parade that you want to engage in, in return for not parading down a contentious bit of the Ormeau Road in Belfast. It seems to us perfectly reasonable. What surprised us in 1999 was Alastair Graham, the then Chairman of the Parades Commission, said that he was unable to make any links, which flatly contradicted what they previously said some months earlier—there are probably people who can remember this better than me—when they allowed an Orange Order parade down the Lower Ormeau Road on the grounds they banned the one in Garvaghy Road and they did not want the unionist community feeling all of their parades were all banned. There was linkage there. That is why we were very surprised when the Parades Commission said they would not draw any linkage between the Lower Ormeau Road and the parade in Derry, when there quite clearly is one. That is why they parade in the Lower Ormeau Road in order to get on a bus to come to Derry.

  455. Is it the case with the Lower Ormeau Road (I am mindful of the Parade Commissions determination) that one of the reasons why they declined that, turned down the application, was because of the possibility of trouble in Londonderry on 2 December. Your actions are open to interpretation, you are prepared to abandon a mutual respect of tolerance in Londonderry if you did not get your way on the Lower Ormeau Road.
  (Mr Mac Niallais) The situation is this, there is an overwhelming nationalist majority in the city of Derry. On the West Bank of Derry there is something in the region of 95 per cent of the city. The two main parades are by the Apprentice Boys Association, both take place on a Saturday. The December parade that you refer to take places in the run-up to Christmas, a very busy time of year for businesses and street traders, et cetera. We have always been of the opinion that the majority of the community within the City of Derry needs to treat the minority community with respect. They actually do what they can to make the minority community within the city feel welcome or less threatened than they do. However, we do not feel that forcing a parade through a similar minority community in another area of the North is conducive in creating that environment. What we want to do is arrive at a situation where the commemoration of the Siege of Derry takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect, tolerance and peace. We want to arrive at that situation and we want to do what we can to facilitate that. I do not think it is possible for us to do that if the organisation which is seeking to have its commemoration in Derry at the same time and on the same day are seeking to have a march forced through an area where dozens of Catholics have been killed by people associated with loyalist paramilitaries. We should all recall here what actually happened in 1983 after the mass murder in the bookmakers, when the Orange Order marching through the Ormeau Road shortly after that proceeded to dance and really tramp the feelings of that community into the ground. People remember that very strongly. It is our view that we want to actually arrive at a situation where the commemoration of the Siege of Derry takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance. We do not feel we can do that if the same organisation seeking that mutual respect is not prepared to show the same respect to minority communities elsewhere.

  456. With hindsight, was your group satisfied with the RUC's handling of the December parade last year?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) As far as I know the Apprentice Boys handled the situation well in terms of what they did. They ensured that their supporters and their members did not seek to have any type of confrontation. We were pleased with the fact there was no trouble in the Ormeau Road and there was no need for any RUC.

  457. I am referring to Londonderry.
  (Mr Mac Niallais) The situation in Derry? We have had mixed reports about that. We had observers on the ground and the RUC proceeded to force nationalists away from the city centre. Remember, the vast majority of the people participating do not live in the city, they come from outside it, and yet people who live and work in the city were forced away from the city centre by members of the RUC. We were not pleased with how they dealt with people who lived in the City of Derry.
  (Mr Percival) Could I just say two things in response to your points, Mr Hunter. First of all, I think you should be aware that there has been a whole history of, if you like, conflict associated with the Apprentice Boys parades and, indeed, the Orange Order parades long before residents groups and certainly long before the Bogside Residents' Group. The City Centre Initiative, I do not know whether they are giving evidence to you, are a body which sponsors the dialogue between ourselves and the Apprentice Boys, produced a report which shows that if you go right back in time there has always been, at times, conflict and trouble associated with the Apprentice Boys parade. What we have attempted to do, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, is to create an environment whereby the Apprentice Boys can parade in Derry in a relatively trouble-free context. Sometimes we have been successful and other times we have not. That has been largely dependent, I have to say, on whether or not there have been contentious parades in other areas forced through. With regard to the issue of policing, by and large one has to say that the RUC have not been particularly helpful. Certainly in August 1999 they closed the city down. Most of you come from England, if you imagine the centre of Birmingham being closed down, all of the shops shut, all of the ways into the city centre closed off other than for the Apprentice Boys I think people would have been outraged. I do not think that particular example of policing was helpful. Fortunately last year, 2000, we were able to reach an accommodation and by and large we had a reasonably successful day.

Mr Clarke

  458. To what extent to do you believe the Commission has been inhibited in fulfilling its function by the refusal of the Loyal Orders to engage with it?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) I think any problem as such is not going to be helped by a refusal by any one side or any one party to the dispute refusing to talk to the Parades Commission or the local residents. I do not think that is helpful at all. Part of our experience is that we came at the situation from one of total opposition to Apprentice Boys parades through to a situation or a position where we were prepared to tolerate these parades in certain circumstances. All that happened because of a process of dialogue, where we were sitting and we were talking to representatives of the Apprentice Boys, who outlined what they were about. We, in turn, gave our analyses and our opinions on how our communities perceived these communities and the problems we had with them. It is through that process of dialogue we have managed to come quite some distance. I think the fact that the Orange Order in particular will not talk to the Parades Commission does not help the Orange Order's case in any way and obviously does not encourage or facilitate the process which would arrive at a resolution. I think, more importantly, and this is the key to all of this, it is far more important for the Orange Order and other Loyal Orders to engage with those people who are directly affected by their parades and marches. If at the end of the day the Orange Order says, "We will talk to the Parades Commission" then that may help the process, but it is not going resolve it until such time as the Orange Order decide they are going to sit down and discuss these issues with local residents and others, until then we will never get to a resolution.

  459. Following on from that, the First Minister in evidence to the Committee has stated that it is his belief that the Loyal Orders should speak to the Parades Commission. Do you think that is a move that would be welcomed?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) I think they need to talk to everybody. Our position is that we will talk to whoever we think can help the resolution of this. I think the Orange Order should do likewise. I think they should talk to the Parades Commission. More importantly, they need to talk to the body of organisations which are directly affected by it and which represent the views of local residents, that is local residents groups, about whatever area of contention there is.
  (Mr Lamberton) I was just going to reiterate the point that Donncha made. The issue of marching is not between the Loyal Orders and Parades Commission or residents groups and the Parades Commission, it is between the Loyal Orders and the groups in the different areas. As much as they will not speak to the Parades Commission—although there seems to be movement in that direction in recent days—that will not in any way solve the problem. I do not believe if the Loyal Orders speak to the Parades Commission that will allay the fears of the people of Portadown, or if they take that position in Derry and refuse to speak to us, and they speak to the Parades Commission that will help, it will not. They need to be encouraged to speak to the people concerned. The First Minister should be directing his attention in that direction.

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