Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 473)



  460. Your interjection is helpful and it leads nicely into my next question. The Commission obviously operates within a climate where from time to time others have taken initiatives in relation to contentious parades; by others I would place national politicians and the government within that context. Do you think that the Commission's own activities have been inhibited at times by the involvement of others outside of those communities?
  (Mr Percival) Are you specifically thinking about Tony Blair's feelings with regard to Portadown?

  461. I do not think I would be specific because I feel there are enough examples across ordinary contentious parades where there have been interventions by different groups. I suppose the generalism being, do you believe that interventions by national figures are to the detriment as to what agreement could be reached on the ground locally?
  (Mr Percival) It is quite difficult for us to answer that question in any way that is not more than just speculation. With regard to our own situation, really, apart from, I suppose, the initial intervention by John Hume, who is the local MP, who I know has a national profile, most of the participants, if you like, of what is happening in Derry have been either ourselves, the Apprentice Boys, the Parades Commission or the City Centre Initiative. What I would say is that certainly, as you can imagine, we are in touch with other residents groups with regard to their situation. I certainly think we would take the view that there have been times when people felt that the real decisions were being taken, for example, over the Portadown issue in Downing Street. I suppose you can have views on that, after all Downing Street is the centre of government in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, if you have a body like the Parades Commission that is, if you like, being asked to make adjudications, then if things appear to be going on elsewhere I think that certainly creates a sense of not being certain of what is going on. Certainly talking to members of other residents groups that certainly was the worry, that the deals were being stitched up outside of the involvement of the local decision-making process, which I think was not particularly helpful. That is speculation because we have not really had any involvement in any of that directly.
  (Mr Lamberton) Another point about intervention by people from Britain, particularly Tony Blair, is that it seems to happen around times of crisis. It is not seen by people as well-meaning, it is just to get over the summer months, meaning it literally falls off their agenda come 13 or 14 July. That is where I see it all.
  (Mr Mac Niallais) To add to that, this was most notable in 1998. We are aware that there was pressure for us to put pressure on the Garvaghy Resident's Group by certain political figures to accept an Orange march along the Garvaghy Road, an Orange safeguard within the Good Friday Agreement. You will recall that the Assembly had just been elected at this stage. This was followed closely by Drumcree and fears about what could happen about the whole process if that was not resolved. We do not think that that type of pressure is useful, no matter from what source it comes. We think that people need to stand by particular principles in terms of resolving the issues. Putting pressure on people because there is a particular crisis in the political process is the wrong way to approach it.

  462. Thank you. My final question has been partially answered; it is in respect of the feeder parades and the fact that the current position is that the Parades Commission must treat each parade individually as a separate entity. You made some very clear and helpful points that would suggest that you feel that that is not always in the best interests of the local community. Would you go as far as saying that you would like to see a change in the law so that the Commission could look at parades other than in isolation?
  (Mr Percival) I am not entirely convinced, Mr Clarke, that a change in law is actually required. If it is then I think the answer would be yes. I think our general view would be that the Parades Commission historically, I appreciate there has been two different Parades Commissions, I suppose legally they are the same entity—has really made up the rules on this one as they went along. I gave an example of a situation where the Parades Commission did make a linkage between a parade in the Lower Ormeau Road and the lack of one in Portadown. In fact unofficially it was in terms of the mediation process. It was very clear to us and we as an organisation had been informed as part of the mediation process in 1998 that there was not going to be a parade down the Lower Ormeau Road. The reality was that the Parades Commission at that time was more than happy to make a linkage, it was only in 1999 when they chose not to. They used this as an excuse to, if you like, deny the validity of our argument. I think there were all kinds of reasons why they wanted to allow a parade down the Lower Ormeau Road, not least because they wanted to reward the Apprentice Boys, who had three not very productive meetings but nevertheless had had three meetings with the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community. They can make that linkage when it suits them and they seem not to when it does not suit them. Certainly the practicalities are they can hunt with the hares, whatever the cliche is, when it suits them.

  463. Clarification on that point would be helpful.
  (Mr Percival) Yes.

Mr Beggs

  464. Did the Bogside Residents' Group make any representations during the Parades Commission Review about this its composition? What response did the Government make? What particular imbalances has the Bogside Residents' Group identified in the Parades Commission?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) We made representations to the North review body back in 1996-1997. In terms of composition we stated that it should represent the community within the North across religion, class and gender. We know that when the first Parades Commission was appointed there were a number of people who you could describe as broadly representative of the Unionist and the Loyalist community. There did not seem to be the equivalent within the Nationalist Republican community. We also noted, and we said this to the Parades Commission, that the current Parades Commission, like yourselves, has no women members. We are also concerned about the class composition of the Parades Commission. We feel that it is not representative of working-class nationalism, or unionism for that matter. The Parades Commission themselves pointed out to us that that was not their role, that that was a government role and that they had absolutely no say in it. We accepted that, but we think there should be space. We understand the process is by public advertisement. We do not know if there were women who applied and did not meet the criteria. We have no knowledge of that. If it is the case that there are not a sufficient applications from particular sections of the community then we feel that there should be space for co-options, so that you can redress any imbalance perceived in terms of class, religion or gender.

  Chairman: I will intervene in the context of the remark which you made about the composition of our Committee. You have touched on a controversy which is raging in Parliament at the moment, where a number of people think that, perhaps, the Whips of all of the major parties should not be involved in choosing a Committee, it would be better if the choice came from within Parliament itself. We obviously take the point you made. We are seeking to do something about it.

Mr Barnes

  465. From what you tell us, the Bogside Residents' Group support dialogue as a means of resolving contentious issues over parades? From the position that we now have, how do you see that dialogue as being stimulated? What area should it go towards?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) I think there are a whole series of areas in which we need to engage. I believe that we need to involve a long-term process; it could involve other groups and organisations as well. In terms of the Apprentice Boys and what they have been doing over this past few years, organising events other than marches, such as the pageant that was mentioned, concerts, reenactments of the Siege, all of those are things that can assist the process, there still remains the issue of dealing with the problematic areas and the issue of the marches. In the Derry context that obviously involves the feeder parades. We want to see it resolved. We want to see it resolved on the basis, again, of mutual respect and tolerance. We want to see issues around the behaviour of band men, the behaviour of supporters, the issue of on street drinking, all of those issues have to be worked through. The Apprentice Boys have told us, without going into detail of the discussions we have had, that some of these issues are beyond their control to a certain degree, for example street drinking. That is something that we need to talk through and we need to work that through and see what can be done. The fact of the matter is that there are somewhere in the region of between 10,000, maybe 20,000, loyalists coming into Derry. There is a long history of confrontation and conflict surrounding this march. Many young nationalists perceive the Apprentice Boys march as an invasion of Derry City Centre. If I could throw out a possible comparison, it would be like 20,000 Republicans marching through Ballymena City Centre on a Saturday, how would the local Unionists feel about that? That may not be an exact comparison, but that is how many people view this march. I think there is a lot of difficult work to be done. We need to keep on talking. I think dialogue is actually the only way to resolve this, not just the major way, it is the only way. It is going to take some time to deal with this issue so that we arrive, in the long term, at an accommodation of the issue of marches.
  (Mr Percival) Could I just add very briefly to that, which is that dialogue must be about meeting people's real concerns and not a strategy designed to win a Parades Commission decision. I think that is very, very important. Sometimes, again to come back to the August 1999 ruling by the Parades Commission, the feeling is often left with nationalists and non-Unionists, if only the Orange Order would get involved with dialogue with the Parades Commission or the residents group then the Parades Commission would be in a very happy position to allow their parades, that would effectively mean forcing down, like the Garvaghy Road, and that would clearly be unacceptable to us. The dialogue has to take place but it has to be genuine and it has to be about meeting real concerns. To some degree that has happened in Derry.

  466. Are you looking for dialogue outside of the work of the Parades Commission? That dialogue should be something that is continuing with the Apprentice Boys and others. You seem to have a sort of growing admiration for the role of the Apprentice Boys, I assume you are in various contacts with them and yet a great concern is that that is not being reflected as far as the Orange Lodge is concerned and hopefully you are looking for the changes that we are seeing in the Apprentice Boys to be reflected more in the Orange Lodge. I was wondering if that is what you are after and whether there was something that was there on the other side as well. If there could be dialogue that existed between the Apprentice Boys and the Bogside Residents' Group, were there problems that existed in your community as well that meant that others would keep them away from that type of dialogue and discussion and the equivalent to the Orange Lodge on the national side?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) There is quite lot there. I think that if we arrive at a situation in Derry where there is no longer a need for the Parades Commission determination, and it is quite clear that that would be the case, there would still be a need for dialogue. I think there would still be issues that would arise. Part of the reason why we have this situation of contentious parades, without going into a whole history lesson, is the Apprentice Boys parade was banned from the West Bank from 1969 until 1975. There were serious riots and confrontation in 1975, following the first major Apprentice Boys parade on the West Bank since 1969. That was the case right up to the mid 1980s, major rioting around the August commemoration of Derry by the Apprentice Boys. Then the conflict died away. The underlying issues were all still there. You know, people might have thought looking from the outside there is no problem with the Apprentice Boys parades in Derry. There were problems but no one was talking about the problems. If you scan back through the local papers at that time you will see statements from business people, from nationalist politicians, particularly the SDLP, complaining about the Apprentice Boys parades in the local newspapers and every week after these parades. Nobody was trying to do anything about resolving them. We would be convinced that even if we arrive at a situation where there is no need, and both sides are agreed, that there is no longer a need for a Parades Commission determination I think there will still be a need for dialogue to ensure we do not have this issue resurrecting itself in another ten years. It might not be us doing it and it might not be the people currently representing the Apprentice Boys, it could be other people. I hope we will be doing it, just not myself, it could be other people who are there dealing with this issue to ensure it does not come up again.

  467. I was very interested in the written evidence you supplied, because the first two pages are history. As I read it I thought, here we go again, this is one community's interpretation of history. I could have received other submissions with the alternative. Then as it moved on you started to talk about the tolerance and different moves. Then you said, "In connection with certain activities and certain changes with the Apprentice Boys we considered these changes in a very positive light". This is a very hopeful contribution, especially after that sort of framework. I was wondering what had been occurring in order to assist those type of developments? Can I give you one example, Derry has a museum in which there are the two traditions side by side as you go through them historically and different interpretations of what it was that has occurred. There have been lots of people through that museum and it maybe has helped, amongst other things, to have a bit of an impact towards mutual understanding. The beauty of dialogue is that you also understand the other person's position in being involved in that dialogue without having to agree to it. I was wondering what you felt were the positive things we could take from your experiences?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) A lot of things do contribute to that process of what is called mutual understanding. I think the key, and I know we have gone over some of this, is dialogue. If I go into a room with somebody and this person says, "Here's what I am about", I have to listen to that. I might not agree with it, but I have to listen and I have to try and understand and appreciate it and in the end come back with my opinions on that and, hopefully, have my thought processes reciprocated. There are many ways in which we move a situation on. There has been a movement in Derry, there has been positive developments ,but there is still a long way to go. We are talking about hundreds of years of conflict here. Whereas the marching issue is only one small aspect of that, it still has the potential to have the major impact which we have seen in previous years. There are a number of avenues for encouraging mutual respect and understanding and all of them need to be worked at and all of them will play their own small part in terms of how we are able to arrive at that resolution of any area of conflict. I would not want to emphasise one over the other, the key is the dialogue.
  (Mr Percival) Could I just add, I agree that dialogue is absolutely central to this process. The Apprentice Boys, let us be honest about this, are the only one of the Loyal Orders which is actively engaged in dialogue, not just with the Parades Commission but more importantly with the residents group. That is helped by the fact that this dialogue takes place in a city where everybody knows a lot of people quite well. The three of us would have known members of the Apprentice Boys before this process began. I think dialogue can only take place within the context where people realise that we are also representing constituencies which do have legitimate interests and needs that have to met. Sometimes it may not be possible to reach accommodations which can deliver to both sides what they both want out of it. What we have certainly tried with our engagement with the Apprentice Boys is to ask of the Apprentice Boys things that we think they can deliver. We have mentioned some of them in terms of issues that lead to them developing their own system of marshals, issues round drink, issues round music, flags and emblems, all those kind of things. Unfortunately we still have the outstanding issue of the feeder parades. Nevertheless, I am sure we will eventually resolve that one too, hopefully.

Mr Grogan

  468. Following on from Mr Barnes, I read the memorandum carefully and one sentence which struck me was, "We believe that the Parades Commission should base its decisions, when required, on what is best in terms of promoting the possibility of finding an accommodation". I am just trying to get to the bottom of that and how the Commission could achieve that. Was there a hint there that they should—obviously because they have to make a decision when accommodation has not been reached—look at the long-term, play the long game, and that they should expect that accommodation will be easily reached. Is that what you were hinting at? What were you getting at in that sense?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) What we were getting at was the Parades Commission should not allow itself to be influenced by short-term considerations, we mentioned some of those earlier on. The long-term resolution of this issue will come about whenever those who want to march through particular areas show respect and tolerance for people affected by the marches. The Parades Commission, in our opinion, may encourage this, and they need to encourage that process of arriving at long-term accommodation. At times it may be the case that the Parades Commission go well. We have banned the Garvaghy Road march since 1997. Maybe we will encourage them to talk to the Parades Commission or talk to whoever. In our opinion that would be necessary. We think that the Parades Commission need to stand fast to particular principles about this issue. They need to look at the issue in the round and they need to, where required, take a long term view of it, even if that means that there are no parades down the Garvaghy Road ever again. That is our view of it. What the Orange Order in turn need to do in this regard is they should take a leaf out of the Apprentice Boy's book. The Apprentice Boys are looking at this issue and saying, "The marching tradition is very important to us, what other ways can we commemorate the siege". The Orange Order need to update. Why do they exist? Do they exist to march down the Garvaghy Road or do they exist to uphold Protestant values and cultural values. If that is what it is about, if that is all it is about, the Protestant values and culture, the Orange Order should take a leaf out of the Apprentice Boy's book and look back to why they were formed and start to deal with the issue. In my opinion, I have no way of knowing how widespread this view is held, I have listened to Orange Order members ringing local radios shows and saying things like, "This is not what I joined the Orange Order for". What I think the Parades Commission need to do is make sure they do not put the ball back in the court of those people who do not want to move into the 21st century, who do not want to have any other type of process other than one of violence and sectarianism.

  469. Thank you. Also in the memorandum, in the section at the beginning Mr Barnes was referring to, you go through the history and different context of different marches in different communities, and so on. Ultimately is the long-term resolution dependent on resolving wider social difficulties or could it be that if communities can reach resolutions on marches that might lead to progress in other areas as well? It is a bit of a chicken and egg, I suppose.
  (Mr Mac Niallais) In our opinion they are all interlinked. Part of the reason why the nationalists in Derry do not have the same sense of outrage about Apprentice Boys marches through Derry is that the nationalists do not feel unequal within the city of Derry. Whatever about the political inequalities, nationalists do not feel that they are second class citizens within the city of Derry. That is a stark contrast to the situation in Portadown where nationalists do feel they are treated like second class citizens. Nationalists in the Garvaghy Road, the way they view the Orange Order marches there is a prime reason, in some way there is inequality. Whenever there are parades through Derry City Centre people do not see those as a reason of inequality, they see them as something that is annoying but tolerable, it would depend how the political climate is and how things are elsewhere. They are prepared, more or less, to tolerate it. There are negligibles with other issues, if you remove the inequalities within society around that issue, say those people are prepared to accept the notion of equality it is my opinion that the people in the Garvaghy Road might not object to an Orange Order parade. Also, if the Orange Order accept the position of equality they would not want to march down the Garvaghy Road.

  470. One final question, Mr Percival expressed, fairly confidently, the hope that the problem with the feeder parades could be overcome eventually. Is it possible to envisage on the current rate of process that in 10 years' time is it possible to envisage a situation where the Parades Commission became slightly superfluous and did not need to make a determination, at least in your own context.
  (Mr Percival) I suppose the short answer could well be yes. Having said that I am not entirely certain about the wisdom of speculating about what will happen in 10 years' time. My own feeling is that certainly we have made some progress in regard to the Apprentice Boys parades. Having said that, the feeder parade issue is a difficult one. While most of the focus has, for understandable reasons, been on the parades or the attempted parades in the Lower Ormeau Road, there are a number of Apprentice Boys parades that are scheduled for around 12 August, where the local Apprentice Boys have shown absolutely no willingness to engage with anybody, specifically at Dunboyne, and that is not the only example. My own view is that at some point in time those local Apprentice Boys clubs will need to change their way of thinking and maybe, who knows, if there is quite considerable overlap of membership, if the Orange Order makes a shift and agrees to engage with the likes of the residents groups, then maybe some of those local Apprentice Boys groups will as well.

Mr Beggs

  471. I would just like to put a point to Mr Percival first and ask if he would accept that one of the reasons, perhaps, for reluctance on the part of the Loyal Orders to engage with residents groups is because of their understanding that residents groups did not happen by chance in the first place?
  (Mr Percival) You are quite right residents groups did not happen by chance, they arose out of context. I think Donncha explained the context in which the Bogside Residents Group arose. We arose in a situation whereby there had not been a parade around the entire walls of Derry for the best part of 20 odd years, 25 years and that situation changed rather suddenly. I think a lot of people were caught on the hop. The residents group grew out of the feeling that since part of the walls, the west walls ran through the Bogside very close to the Bogside residential areas that were predominantly nationalist, there ought to be some engagement. There was also the situation in Portadown. I am aware that the Portadown Residents' Group has not given evidence to this Committee, but I am sure you have been reading around the subject and the issue of parades in Portadown go back many, many, many years, in fact decades. I will not say centuries, but we are were almost getting there as far as centuries. I do not think it is a fair comment. I appreciate that Unionists believe that the residents groups were created particularly by Sinn Féin in order to promote Sinn Féin's agenda. I accept that many Unionists believe that, but I just have to say to them that it is not true.

Mr Beggs

  472. What changes would you like to see in the powers of the Parades Commission or its mode of operation to enhance it effectiveness?
  (Mr Mac Niallais) We have already dealt with some of those issues, basically speaking we would like to see a situation where the Parades Commission will attempt to facilitate that accommodation. They need to give due regard to the rights of those directly affected by these parades. In that context I do not think that the Parades Commission should have the power to force marches through areas where there is clear opposition to those parades. It has been said that that does in effect give a veto over marches to local residents. I think that in many ways local residents should have a veto over these marches. I think that it is the case, and you see this in the Derry context, that local residents, where conditions exist, are prepared to enable accommodation in relation to these parades, even though they still do not have any problems with them. In particular the Parades Commission should not force parades through. It should seek always to encourage accommodation and a process of dialogue. I think they need to take the emphasis away from the dialogue of those which we consider to be necessary and helpful. It is not going to resolve the issue. They need to be careful that they do not have a list where people tick off particular boxes in terms of dialogue or in terms of any process, then they will get a favourable determination. They need to be very careful not to turn the clock back in terms of the progress that has been made, and in other areas as well over these past few years. They need to keep an eye on the end of August. For many years all Orange Order parades were banned throughout Ireland, not only in Ulster. We need to consider that context, what actually happened was that public processions became an issue of contention and were allowed to be an issue of contention for many years and there was no effort to resolve this. No effort was made to ensure that the rights of people affected by these parades were protected. We need to make sure and the Parades Commission need to do this as well, we need make sure that this issue is resolved once and for all so we are not coming back in 20 or 30 years' time, or some other groups of poor unfortunates, to try and deal with it.


  473. Thank you very much, indeed. There has been some conversation in the course of the dialogue about who should be talking to whom. We can only say that we are extremely grateful you came to talk to us and the fact that we have overrun slightly is a testament to the dialogue we have had. We are genuinely appreciative, for the reasons I gave at the beginning of this session, that you have come to talk to us. You have made your position very clear and we shall certainly look forward to reading the transcript in places. Thank you very much, indeed.
  (Mr Mac Niallais) Thank you.

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