Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 474 - 479)




  474. We do apologise for having kept you waiting, we did slightly overrun. We then paused in order to allow the shorthandwriter to recover from writer's cramp. I am afraid human weakness then took over. We do apologise to you. You are very welcome. Thank you very much, indeed, for coming to give evidence. Thank you also for the memorandum you sent to us in advance. If you have ever read one of our transcripts before, you will know that I always say at the start that we will endeavour to make the questions follow a logical order but they may come from different quarters of the room. Secondly, if you want to gloss any of the answers you have given, either orally today or in writing afterwards we would be entirely content with that. We hope you understand if we want to ask a supplementary question in writing after the event, because after the reading the transcript there is something we are not clear about, you will understand that and follow it up in that manner. You are most welcome. I do not know if there is anything you would like to say to us before your obvious introduction and before we start asking you questions.

  (Mr Dawson) Chairman, I would like to express our appreciation to the Committee for inviting us to meet with you today to take your questions. On my right is Mr David Burrows, the Deputy District Master for the Portadown District and on my left is Mr Richard Monteith, who is our legal representative and who will probably be answering the majority of the questions. I am Nigel Dawson, District Secretary, Portadown District. Richard will be making an opening comment.
  (Mr Monteith) Thank you very much Chairman, and the Committee, you have the submissions from Portadown. We will just highlight very briefly three matters arising from that. First of all, in 1999 there was considerable work done on a series of processes entered into by Portadown coming up to the July parade in 1999, culminating, as I am sure the Committee will be aware, with meetings with the Prime Minister, Jonothan Powell and David Trimble. As a result of that in July 1999 the Prime Minister had said to Portadown, "Is there anything else you can do for us?" There was, as you are all aware: on the appropriate Sunday the Portadown District officers went down to the line at Drumcree and handed in a letter of protest and then left Drumcree. That was the quietest summer in recent years. That was done at considerable risk to the officers in the Portadown District. We all met the Prime Minister shortly after that. He was, I am quite sure, appreciative of the efforts we made at that time, that was despite the determination of the Parades Commission in 1999. We were led to believe, if not in August, certainly in September, there would an appropriate parade from Drumcree Parish Church down to Carleton Street by the Garvaghy Road. When that did not materialise we once again entered into a series of processes under the chairmanship of either Mr Howarth or Mr Ingram. It was in those engagements between myself, David Campbell and David McNarry directly with the residents that those meetings ended when the residents walked out. All of those matters of engagement were the background to the determinations made by the Commission in July 2000. We all certainly feel that our efforts, not only before 1999 but particularly in 1999, right through to July 2000 were completely unrecognised and completely unrewarded. In July 2000 the Parades Commission were really given three bites of the one cherry. Portadown put in an application for the Sunday before the normal Drumcree Sunday, which would have taken matters a little away from the sensitive time of 12 July. The Commission decided that was not an appropriate Sunday. The second chance was when they had a chance to allow the parade on the second Sunday in July. The third bite of the cherry was when we applied for a re-determination. In support of that re-determination we very publicly exhibited our grievance within the newsletter—I am sure the Committee has read that—with the pledges that were in that and particularly the commitment of the Portadown District to engage in a civic forum, if invited, with anybody else who was in the civic forum. That came to nothing. Then we have, right up to the minute, the challenge from the Dunloy Group, which was dealt with by the Court of Appeal, and I am sure the Committee has that judgment. Unfortunately that judgment has rather secured the view that the Parades Commission has given a rioter's charter to those who are opposed to properly constituted, properly marshalled and legitimate parades. Dealing particularly with Drumcree, it is a parade from morning worship. It is a parade that when it last took place it did so in complete silence, no bands, no music, no shows of flags, banners of emblems of any description. Therefore, if there is now a threat of disorder, that is enough to prevent any legitimate parade taking place. That, we respectfully say, is an entirely inappropriate way to govern parades in this or any other jurisdiction. Thank you.

  475. Thank you very much, indeed, for that introductory statement. Let me start by asking you a ground clearing factual question, how many parades has the Lodge sought to promote in the last three years?
  (Mr Dawson) The Portadown District under normal circumstances are only responsible for five parades in the course of a year. However, the Committee will be aware that since we were prevented from returning home from morning worship from Drumcree Parish Church, the District has each and every Sunday from that date applied, seeking permission to parade in order that the District may leave Drumcree and return back to our Lodge in the town centre, so there would be an additional 50 parades per year. All of those have received a negative adjudication.

  476. I realise that in asking my next question I may be entering an arithmetical thicket—how many in the normal course of events would be traditional parades and how many have been related to the Drumcree dispute respectively?
  (Mr Dawson) All of Portadown District parades are traditional. We have had no new parades, where we just simply decide that we would walk somewhere and put an application in. In the course of the year we have a mini 12th parade in June, which is our first parade; then we have two church services, with one to Seagoe church, which are obviously on Sundays; then we have the normal 12 July annual county demonstration and then, of course, the Drumcree parade. Obviously those are all traditional and we would still maintain that our application for each and every Sunday is traditional as well because we have not returned home from that parade in 1998.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for that and for proving my arithmetical thicket.

Mr Hunter

  477. In your memorandum you suggest that the Parades Commission has less practical knowledge when it comes to deciding on particular parades than the police. Can you expand on this? What has led you to believe this is the situation?
  (Mr Monteith) In terms of practical knowledge, the police, who are based obviously in Portadown and the surrounding area, would originally have dealt with the same people, the same parades, the same set of circumstances year after year. Officers may come and go but there was always continuity amongst them at some level, so therefore there would have been a build up in the relationship between the personalities involved, both in the police and in the District. With regard to the Parades Commission, as far as we can tell, they base their findings on, first of all, anyone who wants to come and speak to them and present whatever point of view they want and, secondly, their Authorised Officers and, thirdly, reports from the police. We, like everyone else, are not privy to what anyone else tells the Parades Commission. Certainly in dealings I had in Lurgan with Authorised Officers I can only work out that whatever they were told by myself and the parade organiser was either not relayed to the Parades Commission or was incorrectly relayed to the Parades Commission. The written determination we saw had factual inaccuracies in it. If the Parades Commission are basing their information on largely objectors and, secondly, those Authorised Officers who supply them with information there is no means of checking that information and it is open, really, to what anyone wants to tell them. They have no feel for the situation. Dealing with Drumcree, for instance, there are none of them who are Portadown people and their sources of information are somewhat removed.

  478. Can you remind the Committee of the current position as far as engagement with the Commission is concerned?
  (Mr Monteith) We are all bound by Grand Lodge rules. The only time there can be any engagement would be when someone like myself would be challenging a decision past by the Parades Commission. I personally met the old Commission and the current Commission several times, in addition to that, privately as well as publicly. The only time there is any engagement is if it is to challenge a decision, and that would be by a legal person like myself.

Mr Grogan

  479. Good afternoon. You are quite critical in your memorandum about the Commission and its record in carrying out its duties to promote mediation, and so on. What evidence would you have of that, and as a supplementary, is it not hard to promote mediation if you will not talk directly to them? Why do you think the Apprentice Boys adopt a slightly different attitude?
  (Mr Monteith) I will try and deal with those in order. First of all, mediation, there simply has not been any attempt whatsoever to facilitate mediation by the Parades Commission at Portadown. That is just a fact. In the attempt at mediation that has been done recently by Brian Currin from South Africa—and Mr Currin prides himself on his complete independence from all bodies, particularly the Parades Commission—that is not a Parades Commission effort to promote or facilitate mediation. With regard to your second point, we have continually engaged with and met everyone in different ways. There is a long history of how the Portadown District officers, county officers and Grand Lodge officers have met virtually everyone in the community, either directly or indirectly. There has been engagement through Adam Ingram's process, when in a room such as this there was a direct engagement between myself, two others and the residents. It always comes down to the same position, that the residents have absolutely no interest in engaging in a position other than that there shall be no Orange feet on the Garvaghy Road. They adopt that position because they are secure in the veto that has been provided to them by the Parades Commission. The Commission deny they have such a veto but in reality it exists. If you take the example of, for instance, trade union management negotiations, you have a situation where both parties know what their bottom line is, both parties know what they would like to achieve and both parties have something they can give and something they would like to take. In this particular situation it is quite clear that where there is a threat of disorder and it is common cause that that threat of disorder is not from the Portadown District, but where there is a threat of disorder that is the reason why there is no parade. As long as that threat of disorder is maintained the residents do not have to do anything. They simply say, "No Parade". Portadown District has done everything and has continued to try to do everything it possibly can to achieve a parade. The only thing they want to achieve is a parade in peace, in dignity back to Carleton Street. That is simply not achievable because of the threat of disorder. The mediation network accepted last year that in the Portadown situation mediation was not an option. It cannot work because there are effectively poor and worsening relations between the community in Portadown. They will not improve as long at Drumcree is not resolved. It is the chicken and the egg. If you have a parade subject to the conditions that the residents of Portadown set out in 2000 you would have the possibility of a changed atmosphere in Portadown, but the Commission rejected that once again. By rejecting that there is really nothing further that Portadown can offer. I think Mr Currin—I caught him very briefly on the radio this afternoon—feels there is nothing further that can be achieved by him as an independent mediator. I hope that deals with your points, Mr Grogan.

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